This article was written by Frank J. Williams
This article was published in the The National Pastime: Premiere Edition (1982)
Editor’s note: In the 1982 launch of The National Pastime, reissued by SABR in 2014, a previously unpublished writer named Frank J. Williams wrote a groundbreaking article. “A breakthrough,” I called it then: “the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for deciphering won-lost decisions of the dead-ball era.” In the years since, every record-keeping book, website, and organization has been guided by the principles Williams deduced from his awe-inspiring coverage of games from 1876 to 1919. Self-described as a bank accounting officer whose special interests were the Boston Braves, the Red Sox, and Joe Wood, Williams carved out an enduring place in baseball literature with this one. For more about Frank, who remains an active researcher, see this SABR Salute from 1999.
Pitchers were winning games long before 1876, but were not awarded victories because in an era of nearly universal complete games and restricted substitution, there was rarely a question about which pitcher to credit or debit. In 1885, as Frank Vaccaro wrote in in “Origin of the Modern Pitching Win”, Henry Chadwick “published National League individual totals in the 1885 Spalding Guide. The practice did not catch on. The loss came later. On July 7, 1888, The Sporting News for the first time published win-loss records, and only then after the following disclaimer: ‘It seems to place the whole game upon the shoulders of the pitcher and I don’t believe it will ever become popular even with so learned a gentleman as Mr. Chadwick to father it. Certain it is that many an execrable pitcher game is won by heavy hitting at the right moment after the pitcher has done his best to lose it.’”
I heartily recommend Vaccaro’s article, published in the SABR Baseball Research Journal in 2013. But Williams’ monumental work came thirty years earlier and should be read first. Here it is, online for the first time.
— John Thorn
Ready, baseball experts? Here’s a quick quiz, consisting of only three questions, and — bending over backwards to be fair — I will permit you the use of any baseball encyclopedia or record book of your choosing. If you answer all three correctly, your prize is the next tour of duty as manager of the Yankees.
1. Who was the won-lost percentage leader in the American League in 1905 and what was his record?
2. How many games did Ralph Comstock win for the Boston Red Sox in 1915?
3. How many victories did Cy Young and Walter Johnson amass over their careers?
Question 1: The answer, according to both major encyclopedias — Macmillan and Grosset & Dunlap (commonly referred to as Neft-Cohen) — is Andy Coakley of the Philadelphia A’s, with a mark of 20–7. The Sporting News Record Book lists Boston’s Jess Tannehill as the leader at 22–9. The correct answer is Rube Waddell, also of the A’s, at 27–10; this may be found only in Seymour Siwoff’s Book of Baseball Records. All other sources credit Waddell with a record of 26–11; Coakley’s correct log of 18–8 is nowhere to be found.
Question 2: Both Macmillan and Neft-Cohen show the obscure Comstock at 2–0 for Boston in the three games in which he pitched. However, the results of those three games were one victory, one defeat, and one tie. Only Turkin-Thompson gives Comstock his due at 1–0.
Question 3: Over the years, Cy Young’s victory total has been given variously between 507 and 511; Johnson’s wins have been listed as 413, 414, and 416. Currently, Macmillan credits Young with 511 and Johnson 416, as does Neft-Cohen; Turkin-Thompson lists Johnson at 416 but Young at 507. The correct figures are 510 for Young and 417 for Johnson, as derived from my year-by-year, game-by-game study of the official scoring sheets housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. This research, as yet not complete for all pitchers, has revealed errors in Young’s record for 1907 and Johnson’s for 1912 which are of the same nature as those in last year’s celebrated flap over the 1910 race for the American League batting title between Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. How these errors crept into the record and stayed there for 70–75 years I will detail later in this discussion.
In fact, the confusion surrounding these three “trick” questions is merely the tip of the iceberg represented by the period 1901–19, one in which scoring peculiarities (by modern standards) and transcription errors are legion, affecting Hall of Famers and nonentities alike. Moreover, the random, misguided, unreconciled tinkering of the last 15 years — well-intentioned though it may have been — has piled error upon error, creating a dizzying snarl of statistics which becomes harder to untangle with the appearance of each “revised” edition.
Although the mess spills over into batting and fielding records as well, for the time being I will confine myself largely to pitchers’ won-lost records of the 1901–19 era, how they went wrong, and how they can be righted once and for all. But first, a bit of history.
Until 1967, the official scoring sheets for both the American and National Leagues were unavailable to researchers. This meant that baseball reference books compiled prior to that time (such as Moreland, Richter, Lanigan, Turkin-Thompson, Reichler, et al.) were forced to base their versions of pitchers’ won-lost decisions in 1901–19 on the Spalding and Reach Baseball Guides of that period.
This method caused a number of problems. For example, from 1902 through 1906 the Spalding Guide showed two sets of pitchers’ won-lost records for the previous season for both the American and National Leagues. There were the records according to Henry Chadwick, who edited the Spalding Guide, and there were the official records put out by the two major leagues. In the 1906 guide, on page 77 Chadwick shows Christy Mathewson with a 32–8 record for 1905, and then on page 107 the National League official record has him at 31–9. The American League was treated the same way, with Chadwick listing Cy Young as 16–18 on page 121 and the American League official record showing him at 18–19 on page 145. This discrepancy was the product of Chadwick’s idiosyncratic practices in awarding wins and losses; it must be remembered that his records were unofficial.
The guides published by Spalding and Reach from 1907 through 1913 were based solely on the official records of both leagues. This continued with respect to the National League in the 1914 guides, but a strange development had occurred in the American League for the season of 1913. Ban Johnson, A. L. president, omitted won-lost decisions from the official records released to the public, believing that these did not reflect the true worth of a pitcher, and that earned run averages did. (Earned run average was an official statistic in the American League for the first time in 1913.)
In the 1914 Reach Guide, the editor, Francis Richter, put it this way:
It will be seen that in the above official record the pitchers are ranked according to percentage of earned runs, and the old way of ranking them according to games won and lost is omitted altogether. As that custom had been too well established to be discontinued at once, the Editor of the Reach Guide takes the liberty for the benefit of the readers of the Reach Guide to append the following unofficial, but substantially covered record of games won and lost and the pitchers’ rating thereunder.
In the 1915 Reach Guide, Richter did not give even an unofficial won-lost list, simply mentioning that the decisions were omitted from the official record. In the 1916 guide, Richter went back to showing an unofficial won-lost list; but instead of showing just the 1915 season, he also offered the 1914 season with the following explanation:
During the 1914 season the pitchers’ won and lost records were omitted, which had become so well established that they were regarded as indispensable alike by fans and critics. The omission created such a general protest that President Johnson announced that he would restore that pitching feature to future records. Never the less, we find the won and lost records again absent from the official figures. In obedience to public demands, we therefore append the unofficial records for both 1914 and 1915.
Ban Johnson’s policy continued right through the 1919 season, and each year the Reach Guide carried the unofficial won-lost records; Richter was always very careful to keep these separate from the regular official pitching records (E.R.A., strikeouts, etc.). After all, the Reach Guide was the American League publication and felt an obligation to keep its readers informed.
The Spalding Guide was a National League publication, however, and its editor felt no such obligation. The 1914 and 1915 Spalding Guides offered no explanation for the omissions from the official record and did not bother to show any won-lost decisions for the American League.
Unofficial won-lost records did appear in the 1916 Spalding Guide — but were thrown in with the official pitching records, accompanied by a footnote which read, “The won and lost columns are not included in averages compiled by the American League, but are inserted unofficially as a matter of record.”
This approach by the Spalding Guide, which continued through 1919 (no won-lost records were shown in the 1920 guide), was very confusing for two reasons. First, if the reader did not see the footnote, he thought he was looking at the official won-lost pitching records; and second, the footnote implied that the American League did not compile any official won-lost records during the seasons of 1915 through 1918. The American League did compile these records, but just didn’t release them to the public.
More confusion was added in the 1918 and 1919 Spalding Guides when the wording of the footnote was altered. It now read, “The won and lost and percent columns are not included in the official averages compiled by the American League, but are obtained from official scores.”
During this period, both guides obtained their unofficial won-lost records from the weekly list of pitchers’ decisions published in The Sporting News, Sporting Life, and the Sunday edition of such newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post. These lists were based on what the official scorer recommended to the league secretary or president. (He could never do more than recommend: it was the secretary or president who officially compiled the pitchers’ won-lost records during the season.)
Often, when two or more pitchers were involved in a game, the official scorer’s recommendation was overruled by the league president. It was widely known that Ban Johnson, after reviewing the situation, often disagreed with his official scorers. Sometimes the dispute was made public; usually it was not. This compelled statisticians like George Moreland, who compiled many of the weekly lists that appeared in newspapers, to rely solely on the scorers’ unofficial recommendations rather than the final, official decision rendered by Johnson. Of course, the Reach and Spalding Guides were also forced to use these unofficial lists at the end of the season because Johnson did not release the official won-lost decisions.
Such, then, was the data base for the 1901–19 period which was to be used in record books and encyclopedias between 1920 and 1967. It was the best and only information available.
In the fall of 1967, the official sheets of both the American and National Leagues were made available to researchers from Information Concepts Incorporated, the organization responsible for the first edition of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia. (The I.C.I. group, incidentally, disbanded shortly after the 1969 publication of “Big Mac,” but David Neft, Richard Cohen, and Jordan Deutsch of that crew went on to compile a rival encyclopedia for Grosset & Dunlap.) The researchers made a sincere and honest effort to clear up any discrepancies that existed in past major-league records. One of the major problems confronting them was the won-lost pitching records prior to 1920, particularly in the American League. The official sheets for the American League prior to 1905 had not survived and the same situation obtained in the National League prior to 1903. This meant the I.C.I. group had to reconstruct day-by-day pitching and hitting statistics for those periods.
In doing the pitching records for the American League, I.C.I. discovered that the won-lost columns on the 1914 A.L. official sheets were blank. In the National League, too, there were games in which no pitcher had been awarded a win or loss; or a pitcher was awarded a win when it should have been a loss, or vice versa; or two pitchers had been awarded the same win or loss. The I.C.I. researchers corrected most of these mistakes and were able to reconcile the individual pitchers’ won-lost records to those of the teams.
Although there were some errors of this nature, the majority of the won-lost decisions for the American League, 1905–1919, had been recorded correctly on the official sheets. Yet the researchers were perplexed by these records too: they found that in games in which two or more pitchers were used, the win or loss was awarded on a basis which did not conform to pitching rules in effect from 1920 to 1949, nor to those prevailing from 1950 to the present.
Evidently convinced that there was no consistency in these pitching practices, I..C.I. chose to apply modern standards, as is indicated on page 2328 of Macmillan I (1969):
Scoring rules governing won and lost decisions by a pitcher did not become official until 1950. It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1920–1949 shall stand as they are in the official records, but that for the period 1876–1919 the 1950 ruling shall be in effect. The reason for this was that since 1920 the official scorer did exist, and he had the explicit authority to award the victory based on common practice, which was very close to the rule adopted in 1950. In the pre-1920 period, however, there was no official scoring rule or common practice for wins by a pitcher and for many years no official scorer.
This wholesale ravaging of the official records was as if a team of archaeologists had come upon the monoliths of Stonehenge and, not fathoming the reason for the complex astronomical arrangement of the stones, had rearranged them into a pattern they could understand.
Of course, this switching around of wins and losses caused quite a few changes in pitchers’ won-lost records, including those of Young and Johnson. Young’s wins went from 511 down to 509 and his losses went up from 313 to 316. Johnson’s wins decreased from 416 down to 413, as did his defeats, from 279 to 277.
In 1978, I undertook a research project to verify the Boston Red Sox won-lost pitching records day by day from 1901–62, comparing my figures with the statistics compiled in the various editions of Macmillan (the current edition, published in 1982, is the fifth). I had no problem in agreeing with Macmillan’s records post-1920, but for the 1901–19 era, it was a different story. I realized that my totals for Red Sox pitchers, gleaned from a variety of sources, differed so much from Macmillan’s that I would have to go to the Hall of Fame Library and go through the official sheets for the American League.
Despite the lack of official sheets from 1901 through 1904, I did not find those four seasons that hard to check because most of the games featured only one pitcher per team and the official won-lost records were in the Reach and Spalding Guides. The 1905–19 period was not so easy, as I had to start matching written newspaper accounts against the official sheets in order to ascertain the official scorer’s thinking in awarding a decision. This prodedure worked out amazingly well: a consistent pattern emerged on all won-lost decisions for Red Sox pitchers. Many of these practices were completely foreign to anything in use today.
I began to wonder if these practices might apply to other American League teams, and if they were common in the National League, too. This started me on a course of doing other teams’ pitchers on a day-by-day basis for 1905–19 and, sure enough, I found the same common practices in effect. I also found that Irwin Howe, A.L. statistician, had released pitching won-lost records in 1914 to The Sporting News, Sporting Life, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. This solved the dilemma of the blank won-lost columns on the 1914 A. L. official pitching sheets.
All of this plus invaluable information, advice, and help from SABR members Cliff Kachline, Ed Walton, Bob Wood, Pete Palmer, John Thorn, Paul Doherty, Don Luce, Bill Gavin, and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, brought about a list of common scoring practices used in both the American and National Leagues between 1901 and 1919. Had these practices been known to the I.C.I. researchers 15 years ago, we would have a perfect set of won-lost records today.
The first practice existed primarily from 1876 to 1904. Most pitchers went the full nine innings, but when they didn’t, the win went to the starter if he left the game with the lead and his team never relinquished it. The starter did not have to go five innings, but could get away with pitching two or three innings and still be awarded the win. A couple of examples of this are as follows (pitchers are listed only for the one team which illustrates the practice at hand):
September 27, 1902; at Baltimore — first game
Boston 4 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 0–9 Hughes, 4 inn., WON; Altrock, 5 inn.
Balt’re 0 0 3 2 0 2 0 0 1–8
April 30, 1904; at Washington
Boston 0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0–4 Winter, 2 inn., WON; Young, 7 inn.
Washi’n 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0–1
The 1969 edition of Macmillan originally gave the latter win to Young, showing him at 27–16 for the 1904 season and George Winter at 7–4, but the 1982 edition has correctly given the win back to Winter, showing him at 8–4 and Young at 26–16. Macmillan failed, however, to change the relief record. Young’s record should now be 1–0 with one save, but Macmillan still shows him at 2–0. When you make any single change like that, it must be traced all the way through in order to reconcile individual and team totals.
The season of 1905 brought the first real influx of relief pitchers into baseball, and along with this came a drastic change in the awarding of won-lost decisions. It became the official scorer’s job to determine who deserved the win or defeat and then recommend this decision to his superiors, Ban Johnson or John Heydler of the National League. Neither man was shy about overruling official scorers if he disagreed with them.
The second practice, an early change in awarding won-lost decisions, covered the period 1905–15 and is best depicted in a National League game played in 1912.
June 12, 1912; at New York — Marquard’s 13th straight win
Chicago 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0–2
New York 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 x — 3 Marquard, 8 inn., WON; Crandall, 1 inn.
The following explanation appeared in the New York Times of June 13, 1912:
Rube was taken out of the game in the last half of the eighth inning to allow Shafer to try his skill as a pinch-hitter. At that time, the Cubs were in the lead 2 to 1. Shafer walked and that started the rally which gave the Giants two runs and the victory. Crandall pitched the ninth inning. Well, if you must know, Marquard gets the credit for the victory. That is, the official scorer will send in such a recommendation to the Secretary of the National League. In most instances, when a pitcher is retired and the team is behind, the credit for the victory goes to the pitcher who succeeds him. The circumstances in games are so different that there is no rule to cover it and it is often a matter of judgment. The reason that Marquard received credit for yesterday’s game was because he did the bulk of the pitching, and he was not withdrawn from the game for poor pitching. In fact, Rube pitched pretty good ball. [Emphasis mine — F.W.]
Under today’s rules, Marquard would also get this win, but not for the same reason. The following examples are from American League games between 1905 and 1915 which conformed to this practice.
April 21, 1905; at Boston
Philad 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0–5 Coakley, 7 inn., Waddell, 2 inn., WON
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0–4
Coakley was batted for in the eighth inning and left the game trailing. He was taken out for not pitching well. Waddell faced six batters in two innings and struck out five of them. In the judgment of the official scorer, he pitched better than Coakley did and thus deserved the win.
May 30, 1905; at Washington-first game
Boston 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3–4 Winter, 8 inn.; Young, 1 inn., WON
Wash’n 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0–3
Winter was batted for in the ninth. It wasn’t until the latest edition that Macmillan gave this win back to Young and changed his record from 17–19 to 18–19.
The third practice was the most common used in 1905–19. Under modern rules, this situation would be described as a save, but back then, it was a win. Usually, the relief pitcher finished the game and pitched more effectively in crucial situations than did any of his predecessors. The written coverage of this type of game often stated that the relief pitcher saved the game. Examples are as follows:
June 30, 1905; at New York
Philadel’a 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 2–7 Plank, 8 inn., Waddell, 1 inn., WON
New York 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0–4
With none out in the ninth, Eddie Plank left the game leading 7–4, but Waddell pitched out of a tight situation and saved the game. According to the latest edition of Macmillan, Plank and Waddell both had 26 victories that year to lead the American League, but this is incorrect. Waddell was awarded the above game, which made him 27–10. He is also the A. L. won-lost percentage champion for 1905 — as you know from the opening quiz — rather than Coakley, who was 18–8 per the practices of that time (the official sheets showed Coakley 17–8, but omitted a complete-game victory on July 10).
July 17, 1909; at Cleveland
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 5 1 0 0–6 Arellanes, 4 inn., Steele, 1 inn.,Wood, 4 inn., WON
Cleve’d 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0–4
Elmer Steele left this game in the bottom of the sixth inning leading 5–4, but Wood pitched one of the best strikeout games ever by a relief pitcher. In four frames, he faced 17 batters and fanned 10 of them without walking anyone. There was no doubt that he saved the game and, in line with this observed practice, was awarded the win.
June 6, 1912; at Chicago
Washi’n 1 0 1 0 0 0 3 0 4–9 Musser, 5 inn., Johnson, 4 inn., WON
Chicago 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0–1
Johnson came into this game when the score was only 2–1 and stopped Chicago the rest of the way. There are countless more examples of this practice. Can you imagine what Macmillan did with all these games in its first edition? Every one of them must have been changed!
The fourth practice is an extension of Practice Number One, which was in effect from 1876 to 1904, but with some slight differences. Page 21 of the 1910 Spalding Guide says, “If a pitcher retires from the game after pitching four innings and his team has a big lead, which is maintained to the end, he surely should get the victory.” I would add to this that a pitcher who left a game because of an injury, illness, or banishment would also get the victory if he had the lead when he departed and his team never tied or trailed. I have combined all these situations into one practice because they go hand in hand. Moreover, I have found that the practice was not limited to a pitcher going four innings; the real point is that so long as he was not pulled for ineffectiveness, he could pick up the win. Examples follow.
May 22, 1909; at Cleveland
Washing’n 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0–4 Johnson, 3 inn., WON; Hughes, 6 inn.
Cleveland 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0–1
Johnson was batted for in the fourth because he was not feeling well and could not continue.
May 8, 1912; at Washington
Chicago 2 0 1 1 2 1 0 0 0–7 Benz, 1–1/3 inn., WON; Walsh, 5–2/3 inn., Lange, 2 inn.
Washi’n 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 2 1–6
Joe Benz left this game because of an injury and the relief pitchers did not pitch particularly well, so in the judgment of the official scorer, he was the winner.
May 18, 1912; at Philadelphia
Detroit 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0–2
Philad’a 3 0 3 0 8 4 4 2 x — 24 Coombs, 3 inn., WON; Brown, 3 inn., Pennock, 3 inn.
The fifth practice is very similar to Practice Number Four except for one main point. It works this way. Let’s say the starter for Team A is pitching strongly, but for any number of reasons except for poor pitching, he is forced to leave the game with his club ahead. The relief pitcher allows Team B to tie or go ahead, but then Team A rallies to win. If the starter has pitched at least four innings and was not driven from the box, he gets the win. This practice came down to a fine matter of judgment on the part of the official scorer, but it certainly shows up a lot in 1907–15. Examples follow.
April 20, 1912; at New York
Brooklyn 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3–3
New York 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2–4 Tesreau, 8 inn., WON; Marquard, 1 inn.
The scoring practice used in this game cost Marquard a 20-game winning streak. Rube relieved Jeff Tesreau in the top of the ninth inning with the Giants in front 2–1. Two baserunners scored on a Giant fielding error, and they trailed 3–2. Although the Giants rallied to win, the decision was given to Tesreau. The 1913 Spalding Record Book says on page 55, “As Marquard faced but three batters in the 9th inning the game was given to Tesreau on the ground that he had done the bulk of the work and that he was fully entitled to any honor which might arise therefrom.”
April 11, 1907; at Philadelphia — 14 innings
Boston 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4–8 Young, 8 inn., WON; Tannehill, 6 inn.
Phila’a 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0–4
Young was pinch-hit for in the ninth and left the game ahead 4–3. He had pitched strongly. The writeup of the game says Tannehill did not perform well in the ninth and allowed Philadelphia to tie.
September 20, 1912; at Detroit
Boston 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0–4
Detroit 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 1 x–6 Covington, 4 inn., WON; Lake, 5 inn.
Bill Covington had allowed only one hit through four innings when he was thrown out of the game by the umpire in the fifth. He left in front, 3–1. The official sheets, Reach Baseball Guide, and the New York Times all stated that Covington was awarded the victory. This game received a lot of attention because it was the end of Joe Wood’s 16-game winning streak.
August 15, 1913; at St. Louis
Boston 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0–2 Moseley, 6 inn ., WON; Hall, 3 inn.
St. Lou 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0–1
I saved this game until last to show a slight variation in the practice. Here we have Earl Moseley allowing only one hit in six innings and being forced to leave because of an injury. He left with the game tied, but in the judgment of the scorer, he pitched longer and better than Charley Hall, and was primarily responsible for the victory.
The sixth practice was discovered by Paul MacFarlane of The Sporting News, who passed the information on to Cliff Kachline in January 1980. This practice started in 1913 and was reported in Sporting Life as follows: “Ban Johnson ruled that when a pitcher leaves the box at the end of an inning he shall not receive benefit of any runs made in the following inning. He says all runs should aid the reliever, not the previous pitcher.” The game on which Johnson ruled was played in St. Louis on July 16, 1913.
Washin’n 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2–3 Boehling, 7 inn., Gallia, 0 inn., Hughes, 1 inn.; Johnson, 1 inn., WON
St. Louis 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0–2
This was part of Walter Johnson’s 14-game winning streak in 1913.
The seventh practice involves the relief pitcher being held responsible for the runners left on base by the starting starting or previous pitcher. During this period, if the runners he inherited represented the winning runs and the reliever prevented them from scoring, he was often credited with the victory (this would tie into Practice Three).
August 26, 1912; at Washington-second game
St. Louis 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0–4
Washin’n 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0–3 Hughes, 6–1/3 inn.; Johnson, 2–1/3 inn., LOST
Johnson was sent in to relieve Long Tom Hughes in the seventh inning with the score tied 2–2, one out, and two men on the bases. Johnson allowed both men to score and, as was the custom of the time, he was charged for both runs.
It now came down to who was more responsible for the defeat, Hughes or Johnson. There were those who would have given the defeat to Hughes so that Walter Johnson could continue his 16-game winning streak. Ban Johnson after a couple of days ruled that Walter Johnson was the loser because with the score tied, no matter how many men were left on base by his predecessor, Johnson would have been credited with a victory had his team won out. (Full details are on page 207 of the 1913 Reach Baseball Guide).
Although this decision could have gone the other way, there are enough examples of this type of game to make it definitely an individual practice. Cliff Kachline discovered the earliest form of this manner of awarding defeats:
May 4, 1904; at Detroit
Cleve’d 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0–2 Hickey, 4–1 /3 inn.; Joss, 4–2/3 inn., LOST
Detroit 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0–3
John Hickey started this game, but left in the fifth inning with one out and the bases filled. Addie Joss relieved and allowed a triple by Charlie Carr of Detroit. This allowed the three winning runs to score and the defeat was charged to Joss. This is proven by the fact that the official A. L. records in the 1905 Reach Baseball Guide show Hickey with an 0–1 record in 1904. Hickey pitched a complete-game loss on April 16 against Chicago. Joss is shown with a 14–10 record.
The latest edition of Macmillan shows Joss at 14–9 in 1904 and Hickey at 0–2; they did not award this defeat to Joss. A complete game-by-game breakdown of both pitchers also proves Joss should be 14–10 and Hickey 0–1. The Sporting News Hall of Fame Fact Book has the correct record for Joss.
The eighth practice is one of the most interesting ones, involving the awarding of won-lost decisions in forfeited games. Pete Palmer was the first one to come across it in research he was doing on pitching records in the dead-ball era. Thanks to an excellent article on all forfeited games in the 1978 Baseball Research Journal by Paul Doherty, I was able to find a set pattern in both the American and National Leagues for the period 1901–19.
In all forfeited games from 1901 through 1925, won-lost decisions were awarded to pitchers. There were 20 such games during this period, of which nine were less than the regulation four and a half innings (the last such contest occurring in 1914). There were no forfeited games between 1925 and 1937. All baseball record books show complete won -lost decisions without mention of forfeits because the baseball guides and official sheets of that period included them in the pitchers’ tables.
In fact, it was not until 1940 that the Spalding Baseball Guide stated, “A new clause has been added to Section Eleven in which it is provided that no victory shall be credited nor defeat charged to a pitcher in a regulation game which the umpire has forfeited.”
July 6, 1913; at Chicago — second game, stopped in fourth inning
St. Louis 3 1 0 x — 4 Sallee (St. L.), WON
Chicago 0 0 0 x — 0 Overall (Chi.), LOST
The ninth practice was based on the theory of charging the starting pitcher with the defeat if he was the one who allowed the most runs or could be held mainly responsible for the loss. It did not matter if his team tied the game or went ahead after he left — just that they lost because of him. This really came down to a matter of judgment on the part of the official scorer, but enough examples of the type exist to warrant it as a practice of that period. Examples:
September 26, 1905; at Philadelphia — 10 innings
Detroit 0 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 0 2–6
Phila’a 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0–4 Coakley, 7 inn., LOST; Dygert, 3 inn.
June 18, 1908; at Chicago
Boston 0 0 1 0 1 0 3 0 0–5 Patten, 3 inn., LOST; Burchell, 5 inn.
Chicago 0 1 4 0 0 0 0 1 x–6
July 25, 1915; at St. Louis — first game
Boston 0 1 2 1 1 0 0 3 0–8 Ruth, 2–1/3 inn., LOST; Mays, 3–2/3 inn., Gregg, 2 inn.
St. Lou 0 0 4 3 0 0 2 0 x — 9
Ruth was charged with all four runs in the third inning.
The tenth practice was not as common as the others, but I believe I will find more games of this nature as my research continues. Basically, it came down to one-run games in which the starter left the game behind, but the reliever got the loss because he pitched poorly and allowed the deciding runs to score. The following examples will serve to illustrate:
September 11, 1912; at St. Louis
New York 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 2 0–5
St. Louis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0–4 Powell, 7 inn.; Baumgardner, 2 inn., LOST
Jack Powell had pitched very well for St. Louis, and the report of the game in the New York Times stresses that it was George Baumgardner who pitched poorly and allowed the two runs that provided the margin of victory for New York. It was felt that Baumgardner was more responsible for the loss than Powell.
October 3, 1914; at Boston
N’York 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2–3
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2–2 Shore, 7 inn.; Cooper, 2 inn. , LOST
Guy Cooper allowed the runs which were the margin of victory for New York. The Yankee run that scored in the first was due to fielding errors and was in no way the fault of Shore.
The eleventh and last practice awarded the decision to the middle-inning reliever when he pitched the best. Usually the reliever who finished the game strongly was given the win, but there were occasions when this did not happen.
July 22, 1915; at St. Louis
Boston 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3–7 Foster, 1–2/3 inn., Mays, 6–1/3 inn., WON, Wood, 1 inn.
St. Lou 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0–3
Mays went out for a pinch runner in the ninth, but his exit was not for poor pitching.
October 6, 1915; at New York — first game
Boston 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0–2 Shore, 1 inn., Leonard, 2 inn., WON, Wood, 3 inn., Mays, 3 inn.
N’York 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0–0
Hub Leonard allowed no hits in two innings.
I have not completed the American League for the period 1901–19 and a couple of more practices may yet emerge, but it is unlikely. Although there are many more examples than those cited in this article, space limitations prevent my listing all of them. There is no doubt that both the American and National Leagues used all but the first practice starting around 1905, but no mention of them appears in print until the editor of the 1910 Spalding Guide thought to bring them up for discussion by the Baseball Writers’ Association.
This discussion didn’t change any of the practices, but in later Spalding publications — How to Score a Baseball Game, J. M. Cummings (1913) and the 1917 Baseball Guide — John Heydler tried to set standard practices for his official scorers to follow. The American League published nothing on this subject during the period.
The existence and the consistent application of these practices during the 1901–19 era demonstrate that there should have been no changing of pitching won-lost records, except for out-and-out errors on the official sheets, by I.C.I. and Macmillan in 1969. Later editions of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia came out under a new editor, Joe Reichler, and many changes made for the 1969 edition, particularly those of Hall of Famers, reverted to what they were supposed to be.
The 1982 edition states on page 2237, “It was decided that all pitching decisions during the period 1901–1949 shall stand as they are in the official records” — the same wording which has appeared in all editions but the first. The Neft-Cohen encyclopedia also tried to go back to the correct pitchers’ won-lost records for 1901–19. Yet the current editions of both books differ from each other, and neither agrees completely with the official records.
Macmillan did not switch all the pitchers’ won-lost decisions back to agree with the official sheets, and even when the switch was made, it was not always a complete job. A good example of this is Smoky Joe Wood’s pitching record. I was glad to see that Macmillan corrected his lifetime record to 116–57 from the 114–69 they had shown previously (11 of Wood’s 12 losses in the minors in 1908 had somehow found their way into his major-league totals), but the editor did not change Wood’s won-lost marks in relief or his number of saves. When I did Wood’s day-by-day record, I not only found an extra win for him, but also emended his relief totals. Macmillan should be showing Wood with a lifetime mark of 19–8 in relief with 11 saves, but instead, they are showing him at 15–9 with 17 saves.
When Wood’s 1911 record was changed back to 23–17 from the 21–17 cited in the 1969 edition, Larry Pape’s record should have been reduced by two victories, but it wasn’t. Even by doing that, however, Macmillan wouldn’t get Pape’s record straight because another win it has given to him should be transferred over to Ray Collins! Pape should be 10–8 in 1911, and Collins 11–12. If you add up all the Red Sox pitchers’ wins for 1911 in Macmillan, you will get 80; Boston won only 78 games. This is by no means an isolated instance of halfhearted, unreconciled tinkering.
The reason that Neft-Cohen doesn’t agree with the official sheets is that it is relying heavily upon American League won-lost decisions from the Spalding and Reach Guides for the period 1913–19, which are mostly unofficial records. Even some of the years prior to 1913 do not match up to the official sheets; the season of1915 provides a good example of some of these differences. Examining the Red-Sox won-lost marks, we see Rube Foster at 20–8 when he sould be 19–8; Babe Ruth at 18–6 when he was really 18–8; Wood at 14–5 rather than 15–5; Leonard at 14–7 (should be 15–7); Vean Gregg at 5–3 (correctly 3–2); Collins at 5–7 (correctly 4–7); Mays at 4–6 (correctly 6–5); and the aforementioned Ralph Comstock at 2–0 rather than 1–0. And this mess all arises from one team in one year.
Although the 1982 editions of both encyclopedias disagree on some of the yearly records of Cy Young, they are in accord when it comes to his grand totals of 511 wins and 313 defeats. The Hall of Fame Fact Book and the 1982 Macmillan agree completely on Young from 1890 to 1901, and I agree with them that this is his correct record for those 12 years. They also concur on the 1902 season in showing Young with a 32–10 record, but here I agree with Neft-Cohen, which gives Young a mark of 32–11.
I did Young’s 1902 season game by game and it is impossible to come up with any other record. Cy pitched in 45 games, of which 43 were starts, 41 of these complete, and two games were in relief where he had no record. His record in complete games was 32–9 (including a forfeit game of eight innings). The other two starts were incomplete games which were losses beyond a doubt. They are as follows:
May 2, 1902; at Boston
Balti’e 6 2 0 2 0 4 0 0 0–14
Boston 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 1–6 Young, 1 inn., LOST; Prentiss, 8 inn.
August 7, 1902; at St. Louis
Boston 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0–4 Young, 1 inn., LOST; Sparks, 7 inn.
St. Lou 6 0 0 1 0 3 0 2 x–12
There is no doubt after looking at these two games, in each of which Young allowed six runs, that he was 32–11 in 1902. Pitching practices both then and now would charge Young with these defeats. Interestingly, I obtained this information from the Macmillan reconstructed sheets which are housed in the Hall of Fame Library (remember, there were no official American League sheets for 1902). The 32–11 record that I.C.I. originally compiled in 1967 and which was printed in the first edition of Big Mac was correct; now Macmillan lists an “improved” record.
For 1903, both the 1982 Macmillan Encyclopedia and The Hall of Fame Fact Book show Young at 28–10, but this too is wrong. The Spalding and Reach Guides containing the American League’s official won-lost records show Young at 28–9. The previous Macmillan edition listed Young correctly at 28–9, and by changing this to 28–10 Macmillan has taken away the won-lost-percentage championship which is rightfully his.
Cy Young was in 40 games in 1903, of which 35 were starts — all but one complete — and five were in relief. He was 26–8 in complete games, and 2–1 in relief with two saves. The one start which did not affect his record is as follows:
April 20, 1903; at Boston, second game
Phila’a 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1 3–10
Boston 0 2 1 0 3 0 0 0 1–7 Young, 7 inn. (6 runs), Hughes, 2 inn., LOST
The two encyclopedias and The Hall of Fame Fact Book all agree on Cy Young’s records for the years 1904–11, as do I with one crucial exception. For 1907, all three books show Young with a 22–15 record, but my research shows that he was actually 21–15.
In reviewing the Red Sox pitching staff day by day for 1907 from the official sheets, I discovered that an extra win had been marked on Cy Young’s personal sheet without a corresponding date. The extra win is sandwiched between the dates of May 24, when Young pitched a complete-game victory over St. Louis, and May 29, when Young made his next start and lost. He did not pitch in any games between those dates.
Cy Young’s phantom win of 1907 — look closely around May 29.
See the photo of this portion of Young’s official sheet, and note the peculiar placement of the extra “W.” It could be that the official scorer started to give Young a win on May 29, then realized his mistake and added the “L.” The writing was in ink and may have been difficult to erase. Or the scorer could have been thinking of the game of May 30, which Young finished for the victorious Ralph Glaze. In any event, the bottom of Young’s sheet showed a won-lost record of either 20–15 or 21–15, which was erased and changed to 22–15 (the handwriting was of the period). The scorer must have counted the “W”s without matching the dates. It could well be that he originally had Young at 21–15, but in rechecking counted the extra “W” and changed the total to 22–15.
In 1907 Young appeared in 43 games, completing 33 of 37 starts and relieving six times. In complete games, Young had a record of 18–13; in incomplete starts, 1–2; and in relief, 2–0 with a pair of saves. He pitched two more complete games which ended in ties, and one start in which he was not involved in the decision.
I checked out Young’s two saves and his incomplete start that the Red Sox won. They are as follows:
May 30, 1907; at Philadelphia — second game
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 5–6 Dinneen, 2/3 inn., Glaze, 7–1/3 inn., WON; Young, 1 inn.
Phila’a 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0–4
Glaze was batted for in the ninth, but was not removed for poor pitching (see Practice Two and the example of Marquard-Crandall). The official sheets gave this win to Glaze.
August 9, 1907; at Boston
Chica’o 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 2 0–6
Boston 1 0 2 1 0 3 0 0 x–7 Glaze, 6 inn., WON; Young, 3 inn.
Glaze was batted for in the sixth inning, but went out with the Red Sox ahead by at least 4–3. The official sheets give the win to Glaze. Macmillan shows Young with a relief record of 1–0 with three saves, but the correct figures are 2–0 with two saves, the wins coming on August 21 and August 28.
June 14, 1907; at Boston
St. Lou 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0–3
Boston 0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 x — 4 Young, 1 inn.; Winter, 8 inn., WON
Official sheets show Winter the victor. After proving to myself that Young was without a doubt 21–15 in 1907, I was led to wonder how the two encyclopedias ever reconciled the individual records of the Red Sox pitching staff to the team record that year of 59–90: if Young had one win too many, somebody had to have one win too few. My first hunch was that Glaze had been deprived of his win on May 30, described above, but no — both books are in accord with the official sheets in listing him at 9–13. Neft-Cohen and Macmillan each gave Winter one win too few . . . but this they balanced by giving Cy Morgan one too many!
The win which disappeared in order to balance Young’s belonged to Rube Kroh, who pitched a complete-game 2–1 victory over the Browns on August 18, 1907, yet is listed in Neft-Cohen and in Macmillan as 0–4 for the year. Whatever Macmillan and Neft-Cohen are basing their won-lost decisions on, it certainly is not the official record.
Another major difference between the official sheets and the reference books has to do with the lifetime record of Walter Johnson. The Hall of Fame Fact Book; Macmillan; Neft-Cohen-Deutsch; Turkin-Thompson — you name it, they all show The Big Train with a career record of 416–279. Yet my research proved him to have one more win and one fewer defeat.
I discovered the first error on his record while examining the 1912 season. This was the year in which Johnson became the first A. L. pitcher to win 16 straight games. Although this outstanding record was equaled later that same year by Joe Wood, and again by Lefty Grove in 1931 and Schoolboy Rowe in 1934, it remains unsurpassed in the American League 70 years later.
This great streak lasted from July 3 to August 23. It was well documented in the Spalding and Reach Guides and in all the newspapers of 1912. Ban Johnson fully accepted this winning streak and his references to it were amply quoted in the guides and the daily press. Included in the streak was a game played against Chicago on August 5.
At Chicago; 10 Innings
Washin’n 0 0 1 0 0 2 1 3 0 1–8 Groom, 2–1/3 inn., Cashion, 5–1/3 inn., Johnson, 2·1/3 inn.
Chicago 1 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0–7
Walter Johnson drove in the winning run in the tenth inning. The weekly listings in the Washington Post and the New York Times gave this win to him. The Reach and Spalding Guides gave this win to him. There did not exist a scoring practice in that period which would have given the win to anyone but him.
Walter Johnson’s winning streak only 15? Look at August 5.
It was an open-and-shut case — except that the A. L. official sheets showed Jay Cashion as the winner, and thus left Johnson with only a 15-game winning streak!
This problem is unresolved today. There is no doubt in my mind that the clerk making out the official sheets made a mistake. Walter Johnson allowed no hits and no runs in 2–1/3 innings, plus drove in the winning run. This was a performance far superior to that of Cashion, who allowed three hits and two runs in 5–1/3 innings.
As mentioned earlier, during this period an A. L. official scorer recommended a pitcher for a win or a loss, and then Ban Johnson either agreed or changed the decision. The fact that Walter Johnson appears as the winner in the weekly newspaper listing proves that the official scorer recommended him for the victory. The fact that Ban Johnson accepted the 16-game winning streak proves he agreed with the official scorer. Walter Johnson’s record in 1912 should be changed from 32–12 to 33–12.
In 1917, AI Munro Elias published Walter Johnson’s pitching record from 1907–17 in a Washington newspaper. He showed Johnson’s record against every team for the 1912 season and added it all up to a 33–12 record. I have researched Johnson’s 1912 season day by day and my breakdown agrees completely with that of Elias.
The additional win for Johnson will give him a 9–1 mark against Chicago, which will tie the major-league record for most wins over one club in a season. This will also mean that he had the most wins on the road of any A. L. pitcher in 1912: his record was 17–4.
If Johnson is not given the victory, it will mean that his winning streak in 1912 was only 15 games, and he would no longer be tied for the A. L. high. I believe Johnson deserves the win because all the evidence is on his side. In the Cobb-Lajoie affair, the Baseball Records Committee ultimately left the batting title in the hands of Cobb, despite the obvious existence of a duplicated entry on his sheet, primarily on the basis that Ban Johnson had investigated the matter and had so ruled. Consistency as well as simple justice would dictate following Ban Johnson in the matter of Walter Johnson’s “hidden” win in 1912.
The other two errors in Johnson’s record occurred in the season of 1916. The Hall of Fame Fact Book, Macmillan, and Neft-Cohen all show him with a 25–20 mark, but the official sheets have Johnson at 24–19.
Anyone looking at the 1916 newspaper box scores of the games in which Johnson pitched and applying modern scoring practices would give him 20 losses. Under the practices of that period, however, only 19 losses were awarded to him. The game in question:
August 7, 1916; at St. Louis; 10 Innings
Washin’n 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0–2 Gallia, 7 inn., LOST; Ayers, 1–1/3 inn., Johnson, 1–1/3 inn.
St. Louis 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1–3
Common Practice Number Nine applies perfectly to this game: the theory of charging the starting pitcher with the defeat if he was the one who allowed the most runs or could be held mainly responsible for the defeat. The official scorer must have felt this was the case and so charged Bert Gallia with the defeat, even though he did not pitch poorly. There are too many examples of this type of game between 1905 and 1916 to dismiss it as an error or a fluke.
The other problem on Johnson’s record in 1916 was whether he won 25 games, as shown in all the reference books, or only 24, as shown on the official sheets. The game in question was played at New York on June 26, 1916, and lasted 11 innings.
Washin’n 0 3 1 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 1–9 Gallia, 3–1/3 inn., Harper, 3–2/3 inn., Johnson, 4 inn.
New York 0 1 1 3 0 0 2 0 1 0 0–8
The weekly newspaper listings in the New York Times show Johnson as the winner in this game. This would mean that the official scorer recommended him for the victory; but the official sheets show Harry Harper as the winner. Johnson allowed one run and three hits in four innings while striking out five. He was far better than Harper, who allowed five hits and three runs in three and two-thirds innings. Also, Johnson finished the game very strongly and was pitching when the lead run scored.
I cannot see Ban Johnson overruling the official scorer on a decision like this. Unlike the game of August 7, 1916 cited above, for which we have an abundance of examples to show that the official scorer was right in not giving the defeat to Johnson, here we have a situation in which the common practices of the period all point to a Johnson victory. He should have a 25–19 record in 1916, and accordingly a lifetime mark of 417–278.
I am not the first person to find errors on Johnson’s won-lost record. Up to the late 1950s, Johnson was universally shown with a lifetime log of 414–281, but then a researcher found that The Big Train had been charged with two defeats in 1911 which were really complete-game victories. This elevated his record that season from 23–15 to 25–13, and his lifetime totals from 414–281 to 416–279.
As we have seen from the 1910 Cobb-Lajoie situation, errors were made on the batting records, too — and something similar to Cobb’s “phantom” 2-for-4 game can be found in the 1913 record of Boston outfielder Duffy Lewis. His official sheet lists him as playing in a game on June 29 and collecting two hits (a single and a triple) in four at bats while scoring a run. The only problem was that the Red Sox did not play that day, so his 1913 totals have to be adjusted. Oddly, the rest of that famous outfield — Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper — also had their records botched that year, as Speaker was given an extra hit and Hooper an extra at bat. Small potatoes, perhaps, but it gives you an idea of how rampant scoring errors are in the years before 1920.
Even something impossible to overlook, like a record-setting winning streak, can be overlooked. Reviewing the season of 1891 in the newspaper accounts, I came across an 18-game winning streak by the Boston Nationals. All record books show Boston’s longest winning streak as 17 in 1897, but this is wrong. The 1891 Braves, who were then known as the Beaneaters, made one of the greatest comebacks in the history of baseball: on September 15, they were six and a half games behind Chicago, but then they started on the 18-game streak which resulted in their winning the pennant by three and a half games. The streak lasted from September 16 through October 2.
I hope that the Baseball Records Committee and the publishers of the various encyclopedias and record books can straighten out the statistics for 1876–1919. Since there are no official sheets before 1903 (N.L.) and 1905 (A.L.), I would think that the I.C.I.-recompiled batting records for the period 1876–1904 should be accepted as the most nearly correct. My personal goal is to finish my day-by-day record for all American League pitchers from 1901–19 and to compile a complete won-lost list for each pitcher based on the official sheets, except where errors are found. Included will be a won-lost record in relief along with the total saves.
In conclusion, I would say that with the identification of the common scoring practices of the 1901–19 era as they relate to pitchers’ won-lost decisions, the time is ripe to support the goals of this study and, at last, to clear up the baseball records mess.
FRANK J. WILLIAMS is a bank accounting officer whose special interests are the Boston Braves, Red Sox, and Joe Wood.