Schechter: The most versatile player not in the Hall of Fame

From SABR member Gabriel Schechter at The National Pastime Museum on August 6, 2015:

Few observers doubt that Babe Ruth possessed the greatest combination of batting and pitching talent ever seen. Pitching regularly with the Red Sox as a 20-year-old, Ruth won an ERA title the following year, was undefeated in three World Series starts, and reeled off 89 wins by his 25th birthday. If the designated hitter had existed then, he had the talent to be an earlier version of Lefty Grove. But they let pitchers bat, and before Ruth could notch victory number 90, he was playing right field full-time and was en route to becoming baseball’s most formidable slugger.

The most symmetrical two-role career belonged to John Montgomery Ward, who debuted as a teenager in 1878, when overhand pitching was banned, batters could request the pitch location, and walks were rare. One of the finest of his time, Ward pitched a perfect game in 1880 and amassed 164 wins before blowing out his arm—before his 25th birthday. He became a solid middle infielder for another decade, scored over 100 runs five times, and finished with a .275 career average and 2,107 hits. A similar but lesser talent from that era was Kid Gleason (most famous as the manager of the 1919 White Sox), who won 138 games before moving to second base, where he batted .261 with 1,946 hits.

Apart from the two Hall of Famers, who was baseball’s most talented two-role performer? Don’t feel bad if you never heard of him; he was forgotten soon after he died on September 20, 1919, the same day Ruth hit his 27th home run of the season to tie Ned Williamson’s record. He was, as historian Bill Kirwin put it, “the victim of being a pitcher in a hitters’ era and a hitter in the Deadball Era.” He was James Bentley Seymour, better known as Cy.

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Originally published: August 7, 2015. Last Updated: August 7, 2015.