Hack Wilson’s 191st RBI: A Persistent Itch Finally Scratched

This article was written by Clifford S. Kachline

This article was published in SABR 50 at 50


This article was originally published in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal, Vol. 30 (2001).

 

Hack Wilson (Chicago History Museum, Chicago Daily News Collection)As famed radio news commentator Paul Harvey might expound, “And now for the rest of the story.” What story? The one detailing the how and the who of the long-overlooked run batted in that, 69 years after Hack Wilson accomplished the feat, boosted his one-season major-league RBI record to 191.

It’s a story that from start to finish spanned almost 22 years and took many twists and turns. It also is a product of the effort of numerous SABR re­searchers who provided assistance and deserve credit.

It all started in 1977 during my tenure as historian of the Baseball Hall of Fame, when an envelope ar­rived from The Sporting News, where I had earlier been a member of the editorial staff for 24 years. Enclosed were two letters. One was dated No­vember 17, 1977, written by staff member Larry Wigge.

Dear Cliff: We just received this [enclosed] letter from a reader, and since The Sporting News box scores from 1930 did not reveal RBI totals, there was no way to answer the man. I thought maybe you have come across this be­fore, and Mac [Paul Macfarlane, another TSN staff member] suggested that you had the official boxes and could check into this.

The enclosed handwritten letter was from a James Braswell, who was living in Chicago at the time.

Gentlemen: I believe if you check Hack Wilson’s record from July 24 thru August 5, inclusive, of 1930, you will find Wilson knocked in at least one run in 11 consecutive games, and should be listed in your Baseball Record Book — along with Mel Ott — as the co-holder of this N.L. record [for consecutive games with an RBI].

After making a quick check, my response to Braswell on November 22 (with a copy to Wigge) advised:

Wilson’s day-by-day record for 1930, as kept by the National League’s official statisti­cian, shows that he was credited with RBIs in only 10 of the 11 games during the period you listed. However, an Associated Press box score of the game for which he is shown with no RBIs on the official sheet does in fact credit him with a run batted in. I am now attempt­ing to obtain a play-by-play of the game in question … and will be getting back to you.

Exactly one week later a followup letter to Braswell (a carbon again going to Wigge) declared:

We have received copies of accounts appearing in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Herald-Examiner of the second game of the July 28, 1930 doubleheader between the Cubs and Cincinnati at Wrigley Field. Both accounts state that Hack Wilson singled home Kiki Cuyler from second base in the third inning. Wilson subsequently moved to third base on an error and scored on Charlie Grimm’s single. In summary, the newspaper accounts indicate that Wilson and Grimm should have been credited with one RBI each in this game — rather than Grimm with two and Wilson with none as is shown on the official records. This would then give Wilson a streak of 11 successive games with an RBI. The Official Baseball Records Committee will be meeting next week, and I will arrange to have this matter presented to the group at that time.

The Baseball Records Committee had been founded in Milwaukee during the All-Star Game break in July 1975, prompted by discrepancies between the Elias Bureau’s Book of Baseball Records and The Sporting News‘s Baseball Record Book, together with the discovery of numerous mistakes in the official records through the years.

With the approval of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and the concurrence of the two league presidents, Joe Reichler of the Commissioner’s staff arranged to formally organize such a committee. It originally consisted of 10 members, including two from the Commissioner’s staff, the two league public relations directors, three from the Baseball Writers’ Association, the head of the Elias Sports Bureau, and one representative each from The Sporting News and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Later the committee was expanded to 15 members.

My memorandum on the Wilson RBI matter was presented to the Records Committee at its December 7 session during the 1977 major/minor-league meetings in Hawaii. The report included play-by-play-type accounts by Ed Burns in the Chicago Tribune and Wayne Otto in the Herald-Examiner of the two innings in which the Cubs scored while edging the Reds, 5-3, in the second half of the July 28, 1930, twin bill. Both clearly stated that Wilson and Grimm each singled in one run in the third inning. (The box score appearing in the Chicago Herald-Examiner and the one distributed by Associated Press both show Wilson and Grimm with one run batted in apiece. The Chicago Tribune did not include RBIs in its box scores in 1930, while the Daily News and American seldom listed them.)

In a letter dated December 16, I informed Braswell:

Three factors prompted the Committee to defer any action on the [Wilson] findings:

1. Seymour Siwoff [head of the Elias Bureau] pointed out that his Book of Baseball Records already shows a longer NL RBI streak (12 games by Paul Waner from June 2-16, 1927),

2. Additional data is still needed on other discrepancies in Wilson’s 1930 RBI record, and

3. The group simply ran out of time at this particular session [to pursue the matter further].

The letter also noted six other instances where the daily RBI figures that Braswell listed for Wilson differed from the official records. I asked if he was in a position to check Chicago newspapers for play-by-play accounts of these games. About a week later Braswell provided information on the six games and added: “This has spurred me on to doing a complete analysis of Hack’s incredible 1930 RBIs. Needless to say, it will take several months of research, but this is a hobby with me so eventually I will complete it.”

More digging … and diggers

Beginning in late December 1977, my involvement in the Baseball Museum’s major expansion and total remodeling project increased greatly. As a result, my next contact with Braswell was delayed until the following September. He responded that he had not had a chance to do further research, but hoped to be able to in the future. Unfortunately, this was the last I heard from him. Because of the heightened workload resulting from the Museum expansion/renovation program, I didn’t write him again until May 14, 1982, with a follow-up four weeks later. Neither letter brought a response. Braswell, who had joined SABR in 1978, dropped out after 1983, and all contact with him was lost.

I contacted another SABR member living in the Chicago area — Bob Soderman — in January 1981 to ascertain if he might be willing to assist in the research. Ironically, as it turned out, Soderman had been gathering information for several years for a possible biography of Wilson. He advised that his research and writing had carried him through the 1929 season.

Soderman proved to be a key figure in verifying Hack’s 191 RBIs. His background made him an ideal choice. As a young man in the late 1940s, he had been a sportswriter with Chicago’s City News Bureau. Later he joined the advertising department of the Jim Beam Distilling Company and eventually became vice president of marketing and advertising for the firm. In that role he developed a relationship with The Sporting News by placing Jim Beam ads in what then was known as the Baseball Bible.

After retiring from Jim Beam, Soderman became active as a boxing historian and has contributed many articles to boxing publications. In 1980 he helped found the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). In addition, he continued as an active baseball researcher and was responsible for discovering a unique record: most consecutive at-bats without a home run — Tommy Thevenow, 3,347 in the National League, and Ed Foster with 3,278 in the American League.

Another who became involved in the Wilson project during this period was Paul Macfarlane of The Sporting News. We had been colleagues for much of my career with that publication. Among his responsibilities as TSN historian/archivist at the time was Daguerreotypes, a book containing the lifetime records of the game’s greatest players. He was TSN‘s representative during the last few years of the Official Records Committee and as a consequence of our frequent contacts was aware of the “missing” RBI, and had even changed Wilson’s RBI total to 191 in the 1981 edition of Daguerreotypes. (A year or two later he changed it back to 190 following Bowie Kuhn’s ruling on the 1910 Cobb-Lajoie batting championship dispute.)

By early summer 1982, Soderman’s research had uncovered numerous mistakes in RBIs credited to 1930 Cub players. It became obvious that it would be necessary to check every Cub RBI in each game that season if there was to be any possibility of acceptance of a revision of Wilson’s total. In a letter dated June 10, 1982, I had asked Soderman whether he’d be willing to do this and reminded him of a day-by-day grid of 1930 Cub RBIs that I had compiled from the official NL records and had sent him. He quickly dug into the assignment full blast. Taking the train or bus from his suburban Mt. Prospect home into the Windy City, he spent days at the Chicago Public Library going through microfilm of four Chicago dailies: Tribune, Times, Daily News, and Herald-Examiner.

Early in May 1983, during a conversation with Macfarlane, Soderman said his research up to that point led him to believe Hack had three more RBIs not just one — for a total of 193. However, his “final report” to me and Macfarlane, dated May 30, 1983, scotched that prospect. The 27-page document included a summary of each 1930 Cub game that listed the opponent, home or away, and final score; a daily log of Wilson’s home runs and RBIs; a game-by-game grid for all 26 Cub players who had an RBI, and play-by-play descriptions of Cub scoring in 17 games where actual or potential RBI discrepancies were found.

The two “dubious” games in which Soderman originally concluded Hack had been deprived of an RBI were those of June 4 at Boston and the second half of an August 19 doubleheader at Wrigley Field which ended in a 16-inning, 6-6 tie. In the first instance, the Tribune‘s game account indicated Hack had driven in a run in the fourth inning as well as in the first inning. The play-by-play in the Chicago Times refuted this, crediting Riggs Stephenson with both RBIs in the fourth inning.

In the August 19 contest, Soderman’s reading of game accounts in two papers originally led him to believe Wilson had driven in Kiki Cuyler in the third inning. As a matter of fact, the Associated Press box score appearing in the New York Times and other newspapers did give Hack an RBI. The subsequent discovery of a play-by-play account in the Chicago Daily News revealed that, with one out and the Cubs trailing, 4-1, Cuyler scored when Phillies second baseman Fresco Thompson booted Wilson’s grounder for an error. Although Cuyler may have taken off for the plate as soon as the ball was hit, Wilson was not credited with an RBI by the official scorer.

Earlier in the season, another Cub player was deprived of an RBI that seemed warranted. It occurred in the second half of a May 30 morning-afternoon bill against St. Louis at Wrigley Field. With the score tied at 8-8, the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the tenth inning, Riggs Stephenson smashed a grounder to Cardinal shortstop Sparky Adams. He fired to second baseman Frank Frisch, but Frisch’s throw to first attempting to double up Stephenson was off-target. Although the winning run scored on the play, the Associated Press and most newspapers listed no RBI for him, and also had no error for Frisch. At the same time, box scores carried a note saying, “One out when winning run scored,” thus ignoring the forceout at second base.

However, a check of the NL official records revealed the scorer did include that out and also charged Frisch with an error, thus eliminating the possibility of an RBI for Stephenson. Baseball’s official scoring rules in 1930 stated the game summary “shall contain the number of runs batted in by each batsman” but offered no explanation on how to score RBIs in unusual situations.

This seeming oversight was corrected at a meeting of the rules committee on December 12, 1930, when the following definition was adopted: “Runs batted in should include runs scored on safe hits (including home runs), sacrifice hits, infield outs, and when the run is forced over by reason of a batsman becoming a baserunner. With less than two out, if an error is made on a play on which a runner from third would ordinarily score, credit the batsman with a Run Batted In.”

Did the last sentence starting “With less than two out …” represent a new interpretation? The fact that the AP box score credited Wilson with an RBI in the August 19 game would indicate that at least some scorers already may have been following that practice. It’s possible the league presidents had previously issued instructions covering the situation, although to date no evidence has been found.

An editorial in the December 25, 1930, issue of The Sporting News stated:

When the rules makers were revising the code for the future, they discovered to their surprise that no definition had been made in the rules as to what constitutes a run batted in … Of course the major league presidents had their own definition and had instructed the official scorers how to record this play which is presumed to be of such importance to batsmen. … When the new rules make their appearance, the run batted in will be defined and in the future this will help the scorers of all games. It is not a play applying directly to the major leagues, it is for all leagues. … The run batted in is not a suggestion that is modern. Years ago when Henry Chadwick was fathering baseball, he contended that it should be included in the score and wrote line after line about it. … It is with us now, and in the future it is hoped that it will be more valuable than it has been in the past.

The arrival of Soderman’s “final report” coincided with my assumption of the newly created position of executive director of SABR. The need to devote full time to this endeavor — together with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s decision two years earlier in the 1910 Cobb-Lajoie batting controversy (“The passage of 70 years, in our judgment, constitutes a certain statute of limitations as to recognizing any changes in the records with confidence of the accuracy of such changes.”) — prompted me to put the Wilson matter aside without even studying and evaluating the results. It would be many years before I pursued it again.

Despite Kuhn’s edict, Macfarlane proposed doing a story for The Sporting News on the Wilson mess. With the Cobb-Lajoie experience in mind, editor Dick Kaegel turned him down. In an inter-office memo dated August 5, 1983, to Macfarlane, with copies to publisher Dick Waters, several TSN staff members and me, Kaegel wrote:

This Hack Wilson RBI research obviously is painstakingly thorough but [there are still] some holes. … Our policy on correcting records — particularly records of this significance — must be to first present the evidence to the Official Records Committee. … When the Kuhn administration ends, perhaps we’ll have better luck with a reorganized Records Committee. One of our first steps should be to impress upon the new commissioner the importance of the records committee and renew our suggestion for implementing a research bureau within the commissioner’s office (or possibly under the supervision of Elias [Bureau], SABR or even TSN). … Obviously because statistics are such an important part of baseball, it is important to have the correct numbers. Hopefully the new commissioner and his people will be more receptive to this concept. Meanwhile, we will continue to list Wilson’s RBIs as 190 for 1930.

Unfazed by the rebuff, Macfarlane proceeded to write an article on the subject for the June 1986, issue of The Scoreboard News — About the Chicago Cubs. I did not learn about this piece until ten years later. The 650-word yarn began: “As long as baseball has been played and will be played, there are people who search for the truth in records. Research is less looking for faults as [sic] it is finding an error while looking for something completely non-related.”

He then claimed to be the first to find Hack’s missing RBI. Completely ignoring Braswell’s role, he gave Soderman credit for “painstaking and timeless research [that] proved that I was correct.” He also listed the other Cub players whose RBI figures Soderman had found to be incorrect, with their revised totals. (Further study resulted in a subsequent revision.)

A sidebar inserted next to Macfarlane’s story by Scoreboard News editors pointed out the possibility that Wilson may have been deprived of another RBI, which would have made his total 192. The sidebar cited the 1978 biography of Wilson written by Robert S. Boone and Gerald Grunska. In it, Clyde Sukeforth, a catcher with Cincinnati in 1930, was quoted as saying Hack should have had 57 home runs that season instead of 56.

According to Sukeforth, one day when he was sitting in the bullpen in Redland Field, Hack “hit one … way up in the seats … so hard that it hit the screen and bounced back [onto the field].” Sukeforth said the umpires, apparently not realizing it had cleared the fence, ruled the ball in play and Hack thus was deprived of a home run and RBI. “Of course, we weren’t going to say anything,” Sukeforth was quoted as saying.

A somewhat similar version appeared in “The Fans Speak Out” section of the August 2001 edition of Baseball Digest. According to the writer, then living in Wroclaw, Poland, Wilson allegedly hit a drive into the seats with a runner aboard, but the ball bounced back on the field and Hack wound up with a double instead of a two-run homer. Sukeforth supposedly told Wilson about the incident in 1933, when both were with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, no newspaper reference has been found to confirm Sukeforth’s recollection.

As a matter of fact, Sukeforth was the Reds’ catcher in eight of the 11 games played against the Cubs at Redland Field that season. In one of the eight, the first half of a July 6 doubleheader, the Cincinnati Enquirer stated Wilson smashed homer No. 24 “into the right field seats, which is Hack’s favorite spot on this field,” and then in the second game drove a ball over right fielder Harry Heilmann’s head that “hit close to the top of the screen (but) Hack was held to a single on account of preceding baserunners” [English on second and Cuyler on first], who “feared Heilmann was going to catch the ball.” English scored on the hit, but Cuyler was thrown out at the plate and “Hack had to be satisfied with probably the longest single ever made on the [Cincinnati] grounds.”

Of the three 1930 Chicago-at-Cincinnati games when Sukeforth conceivably could have been sitting in the bullpen, Wilson had only one hit — a triple on July 9. Accounts in Cincinnati newspapers indicated there was nothing unusual about the hit.

Reawakening

For me, the Wilson dispute remained dormant until SABR’s 1996 annual convention in Kansas City. After sitting in on the SABR Records Committee meeting, I mentioned the Wilson matter to committee chairman Lyle Spatz. He immediately expressed deep interest. Another who did was Dave Smith, head of Retrosheet, the group whose goal has been to locate play-by-play accounts of every major league game ever played.

This prompted me to dig out the files and resume evaluating the research that had been done. I looked closely at Soderman’s “final report” of 1983, and contacted him directly. His further research clarified matters and led to a few revisions of the figures he had originally provided (and which Macfarlane had listed in The Scoreboard News story).

At the 1997 Louisville convention, Spatz asked me to make a presentation on the Wilson matter at the SABR Records Committee meeting. Although a few details still remained to be untangled, the members in attendance seemed convinced that 191 should be accepted. With the assistance of Spatz and another committee member, Joe Dittmar, who on visits to Washington checked accounts in newspapers in the Library of Congress, we tied up the remaining loose ends.

The next significant step in the process was to compile: (1) a box score of the second game of the July 28, 1930, Reds-Cubs doubleheader (in which Wilson’s RBI was “missed”) from the data shown in the NL official records; (2) another from the play-by-play account; and (3) compare the two results with the box scores that appeared in the four Chicago newspapers.

There was, incidentally, an obvious mistake in the play-by-play carried in the Chicago Daily News. With one out in the Reds’ final at-bat, the account stated: “Lucas batted for Ford and singled to left. Callaghan batted for Ford and singled to left.” After tapping out the last sentence, the Western Union operator obviously realized his mistake and followed with “Callaghan batted for Durocher and singled to right, Lucas stopping at second.”

The process revealed that besides the Grimm-Wilson RBI mixup, the official records for this one game include eight other mistakes. A box score comprised of figures taken from the official National League player and team sheets is shown below.

Based upon the play-by-play in the Chicago Daily News and the box scores appearing in various newspapers, the official NL data contain the following mistakes:

  • Wilson had 1 RBI (instead of 0);
  • Grimm had 1 RBI (not 2);
  • Blair had 4 assists (not 3);
  • Chicago had 13 assists (not 12);
  • Gooch had 4 AB (instead of 3);
  • Cincinnati had 34 AB (not 33);
  • Ford had 0 hits (not 1); Callaghan had 1 hit (not 0);
  • Cincinnati had 6 LOB (not 5); 10 — Bush faced 36 batters (not 35).

Following are the figures from the official National League records:

July 28, 1930 box score

When I presented this report at the SABR Records Committee meeting during the 1998 convention in the Bay Area, the unanimous feeling was that enough evidence had been developed to justify changing Wilson’s total.

Soon after my return home from the convention, an enterprising young journalist named Owen S. Good heard about it while chatting with a staff member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Good, who at the time was employed by The Daily Star of nearby Oneonta, promptly called and said he’d like to interview me for a story on the subject. At the time, Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez was on pace to threaten Wilson’s record just as Juan Gonzalez of Texas had been at the All-Star break a year earlier.

Under the headline “WILSON’S LOST RBI HAS HISTORIANS BOTHERED,” Good’s 1,200-word article appeared at the top of the first sports page of the July 15, 1998, edition of the Oneonta paper. It quickly caught the attention of the Associated Press, which proceeded to send out a brief item to its clients throughout the country. Because of my long friendship with Seymour Siwoff, head of the Elias Bureau, I immediately called to inform him how the publicity developed. His reaction was that he would need to see play-by-plays of all 1930 Cub games before he could consider supporting a change in Wilson’s RBI record.

Siwoff subsequently contacted Retrosheet’s Dave Smith. Retrosheet already had complete play-by-plays of 107 of the Cubs’ 1930 games and partial accounts of eighteen others. Smith forwarded them to Siwoff, and the Elias Bureau staff began its own study. In December Smith advised that he had sent Siwoff a short note saying “it seems inescapable that Hack’s correct total for 1930 is really 191.”

Most of the games for which play-by-plays were still lacking involved the second half of Sunday or holiday doubleheaders. In the 1930s it was not unusual for large metropolitan newspapers to publish several editions every day. While the earliest Monday editions usually carried play-by-play accounts of the Sunday games, subsequent editions often replaced them with other sports news, and the files maintained by local historical associations as well as the newspapers themselves usually contain only the later editions.

At this juncture, two other SABR members made significant contributions to finalizing the research effort. They were David Stephan of Culver City, California, and Walt Wilson of Chicago. Stephan, a mathematician who has his own consulting business, asked Wilson to search Chicago newspapers for the remaining play-by-plays. Having heard about the dispute, Walt had already worked up his own compilation of Wilson’s 1930 RBIs, and had arranged for his friend Eddie Gold to distribute copies at the 1998 SABR Records Committee meeting. (An article by Walt that includes Hack’s game-by-game RBI production of 1930 appeared in the 2000 Baseball Research Journal.)

Walt’s efforts, over the next eight or nine months, in digging up most of the missing play-by-plays proved to be a clinching factor. Three other SABR members who assisted in this phase were Mark Stangl of St. Louis, Bill Hugo of Cincinnati, and Denis Repp of Pittsburgh. Stangl was able to dig up data on several Cub games played in St. Louis. Hugo checked out Cub games in Cincinnati and found nothing to corroborate Sukeforth’s reference to a phantom homer by Wilson. Repp provided a play-by-play from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the Cubs’ August 3 game in Pittsburgh.

For the record, the list of mistakes in 1930 NL official RBI statistics of Cub players is presented below. It should be emphasized that it would be unfair to change the season totals for the players involved other than Wilson’s record 191 — without performing similar research on the entire league, as well as for other seasons. The revised totals of those affected follow, with the original figure in parentheses: Wilson 191 (190), Cuyler 134 (no change), Hartnett 124 (122), Stephenson 69 (68), Grimm 64 (66), English 62 (59), Blair 55 (59), D. Taylor 36 (37), Beck 35 (34), Kelly 53 as a Red and Cub (not 54), Hornsby 17 (18), and Bush 6 (7).

It is worth noting that of the 13 games in which RBI mistakes were found, all except the last two were played in Chicago. Following are the Cub RBI errata by date, with the correct figure shown first and the number credited by the league statistician in parentheses:

  • June 23 — Cuyler 2 (3), Bush 2 (3), Stephenson 4 (3), Blair 4 (2), Hartnett 1 (2), Grimm 1 (2), Beck 1 (0);
  • July 28 (2nd game) — Wilson 1 (0), Grimm 1 (2);
  • August 1 — English 1 (2), Hartnett 3 (2);
  • August 2 — Blair 0 (1);
  • August 10 (2nd game) — English 1 (0), Cuyler 4 (3), Blair 1 (3);
  • August 14 — Blair 0 (1);
  • August 16 (1st game) — Cuyler 2 (3), D. Taylor 1 (0);
  • August 22 — Hartnett 5 (4), Kelly 1 (2);
  • August 24 — D. Taylor 0 (2), Hartnett 2 (1);
  • August 29 — English 2 (1), Blair 0 (1);
  • August 30 — English 2 (0), Blair 0 (2);
  • September 6 — Hornsby 2 (3), Blair 1 (0);
  • September 12 — Cuyler 3 (2).

Official recognition

The wheels of justice often move slowly. This time, though, the Elias Bureau was simultaneously concerned about a possible mistake in one of the Babe Ruth records that was being threatened. This contributed to quick consideration of the evidence in the Wilson case.

My first inkling that a change in Wilson’s 1930 RBI total was going to be officially recognized came on June 17, 1999. Jerome Holtzman, recently named Major League Baseball’s official historian following his retirement as a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, and a longtime friend, called to inform me of the decision. He requested some background information for use in a press release.

The story was given to the media on June 22, the second day of the SABR convention in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I am sensitive to the historical significance that accompanies the correction of such a prestigious record, especially after so many years have passed,” Commissioner Bud Selig declared, “but it is important to get it right.” The same news release also disclosed that extensive research by the Elias Bureau had discovered six additional walks for Babe Ruth, boosting his record career total to 2,062. The pressure to accept that discovery was driven by the fact that Rickey Henderson was approaching the record, which he exceeded early in the 2001 season.

A week following the official approval of Wilson’s 191st RBI, Holtzman posted a story on www.majorleaguebaseball.com explaining why the record was corrected after 69 years and pointing out that “a mystery [still] remains: Where is James Braswell?” He had been living at 1334 W. George Street in Chicago back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Telephone calls made by David Stephan to the current resident of that address and also to several neighbors failed to develop any leads. A check of telephone listings on the internet revealed there are more than 150 men named James Braswell in the U.S. Calls to those shown as living in Illinois and seven nearby states failed to locate the real James Braswell.

At the 2001 SABR convention, Holtzman told Records Committee members that about six months after Wilson’s record was officially approved, he received a call out of the blue from Braswell, who mentioned he had been attending Northwestern at the time. Unfortunately, Holtzman had no recollection of the location from which Braswell called, and officials at Northwestern were unable to find any record of him. And so, as Holtzman noted in his 1999 article on the internet, “the only missing piece of the puzzle is the whereabouts of James Braswell, the hero of the story.”

Even Paul Harvey almost certainly would be intrigued by the story.

 


Sidebar 1: Run Batted In Rule

The evolution of the runs-batted-in rule has never been fully documented. Henry Chadwick, the first well-known baseball writer, is said to have originally come up with the concept of such a statistic as far back as 1879, but major league baseball did not officially accept it until some forty years later.

Prior to the 1891 season, baseball’s governing board adopted “a new and most important rule” that specified the summary of al games should include “the number of runs batted in by base hits by each batsman.” The proviso apparently proved unpopular. Not only did the National League and American Association averages of 1891 fail to contain any RBI data, but the rule was eliminated the following winter.

In 1907 Ernest J. Lanigan, then a baseball writer with the New York Press, suggested to the paper’s sports editor, Jim Price, the idea of compiling and publishing RBI data. The proposal was enthusiastically accepted, and Lanigan worked up runs batted in figures for players in both leagues from 1907 through 1919, starting with the Press and later moving on to the Tribune, World, and finally the New York Sun.

Runs batted in became an official statistic starting in 1920, but the scoring rules from then through 1930 simply stated: “The summary shall include… the number of runs batted in by each batter,” and provided no specifics whatsoever. While the league presidents or the Baseball Writers’ Association itself may have issued some scoring instructions during that period covering unusual circumstances, no such interpretations have yet been located.

Baseball’s rules committee finally rectified the situation in December 1930, by adopting a description of a run batted in that is essentially the same as that in effect today. The only significant change became effective 1939 when it was specified that no RBI should be credited when a runner scores as the batter grounds into a double play. That later was expanded to include situations where an error was charged on the second part of a potential double play.


Sidebar 2: Why So Many Records Are Wrong

Like Ivory soap, today’s major-league averages are 99.44 percent pure, that is virtually 100 percent accurate. By contrast early statistics of both the American and National Leagues, especially for the pre- 1950 period, are fraught with mistakes.

The reasons are numerous. First, although many of the sportswriters who served as official scorers were diligent and dedicated, some were incompetent and careless. While the official league statisticians supposedly balanced box scores, they had no way to spot compensating mistakes. It also is obvious that those who entered the figures onto the official sheets sometimes copied them improperly.

Newspapers began barring their baseball writers from serving as official scorers some 30 years ago. The parties who now fill that role are on balance doing a more accurate job.

Another factor was the absence of any crosschecking. Prior to the 1950s few clubs had anyone on their staff who compiled their team’s figures. For the past 30 or 40 years all clubs have maintained daily updated stats, and there has been constant contact between the clubs and the league statistician to make certain any differences are immediately resolved. Fans of earlier eras paid far less attention to statistics than they do today. Mistakes in the figures weren’t readily observed, so there was less pressure to be thorough and accurate.

While we hope that data for most pre-1950 major-league games were entered correctly, the ten mistakes found in the so-called Hack Wilson 191st RBI contest are dwarfed by those discovered in another game. The questionable listing of a triple play by the New York Yankees during an 11-inning, 11-10 victory at Boston on September 25, 1929 — the day Yankee Manager Miller Huggins died — prompted me to research that game. Not only did the Yankees not make a triple play as the official American League statistics proclaim (they had two double plays, each coming with one out), but play-by-play accounts indicate the official records for that game contain 22 mistakes involving 10 players. In the early 1900s, the final official league averages were listed as having been prepared by each league’s president or secretary. Except for an occasional newspaper, few other sources compiled player stats. There was little opportunity for comparison.

In 1912, the American League hired Irwin M. Howe of Chicago to serve as its statistician. He and the Howe News Bureau produced the official AL figures almost every year through 1972. Sports Information Center then purchased the Howe Bureau and handled the AL averages, 1973-1986.

The National League first went outside its own staff in 1923, when Al Munro Elias of New York was appointed league statistician. The Elias Bureau has filled that role ever since. For years both Howe and Elias also compiled averages of the rival league each season to sell to client newspapers. In 1987, the Elias Sports Bureau became the American League’s official statistician, and it has handled both leagues the past fifteen years. Elias receives a play-by-play and official scorer’s report of each game via fax shortly after the final out. These are checked before being entered on the computer.

Up until the 1950s and 1960s, most major-league cities had four or more daily newspapers. Some of them prepared their own box scores in order to meet deadlines. The wire services — notably Associated Press and United Press — also produced and distributed box scores. They and the telegraphers for some newspapers tapped out their own play-by-play accounts. This multiplicity of independent sources often resulted in discrepancies, especially in situa­tions where a paper’s writer ruled error on a play, unaware the official scorer called it a base hit (or vice versa) — or when the official scorer changed a decision following the game. Differences of this type may well be involved in the question of whether Nap Lajoie had 229 hits or 232 in his banner 1901 season. The American League official team and player stat sheets for 1901 disappeared more than 50 years ago and thus are no longer available as a source against which to check.

Because of the frequency of mistakes in the official records, it has been suggested many times that averages should be recompiled from boxscores. The immensity and expense of such a task have effectively squashed such proposals. Furthermore, as Seymour Siwoff, head of the Elias Sports Bureau, points out: “It would be illogical and impractical to undertake such a project because newspaper boxscores of the same game often differ and even play-by-play accounts sometimes disagree. In most instances there would be no way to reconcile those differences. In cases where the official league statistician’s sheets exist, the only logical and practical approach is to limit changes to singular records where mistakes of omission or commission can be readily verified from credible sources.”