Friday, November 04, 2005

November 4th, 1873

Bobby Wallace Born

Wallace is in the Hall of Fame, a choice of the Veterans' Committee in 1953 which was reflective in part of Wallace's longevity (he was in baseball in some capacity or another for nearly sixty years) rather than his particular Hall worthiness. He's not the worst choice in there, anyway.

I've written before about players who see the league change around them as their careers progress. As true as that was for Claude Osteen, it was really true for Bobby Wallace. Wallace made his debut in 1894 for the Cleveland Spiders. That year the National League had twelve teams, some you would know today--the Cubs, Reds, Pirates and Phillies were all their familiar homes--but with some notable differences, such as the Baltimore Orioles (no association with the current franchise), the St. Louis Browns (today's Cardinals) and the Louisville Colonels. Wallace appeared in only a few games for the Spiders, all as a pitcher. In 1895 he joined Cy Young (who went 35-10) in the Spiders' rotation but in 1896 he appeared in an equal number of games as a pitcher and outfielder and by 1897 had been converted fully to a position player.

Wallace manned the hot corner for the Spiders in '97 and '98 but was traded--as part of an infamous mass exodus--to the St. Louis 'Perfectos' in 1899, thereby avoiding the fate of being on the shockingly bad 1899 Spiders team who lost 134 games and finished thirty-six games out of eleventh place. With the turn of the century came a new-look league as the NL dropped to just eight teams, all of which remain in the league under various names to this day. After a few seasons in
St. Louis with the Cardinals, Wallace jumped to the American League's St. Louis Browns. He would stay with this franchise until 1916.

When he retired after the 1918 season--back with
St. Louis' NL franchise--he had watched the game change radically from the one he had entered. In 1894 the NL runs per game average was 7.36; in 1918 it was just 3.62. In 1894 all the top five pitchers in innings had topped four hundred, led by Ted "Theo" Breitenstein's 447; in 1918 no NL pitcher topped three hundred innings, and the leader 'Hippo' Vaughn threw just 290. The changes were more than just numbers. In the course of Wallace's career, innovations that today we think of as commonplace were introduced including the hit-and-run and cut-off man system. Further, when Wallace entered the game, it was still possible for an owner to own more than one team, and shenanigans between co-owned teams were common. Of course, this all seems rather appropriate as Wallace himself as evolved radically, from a pitcher to a man who retired known as "Mr. Shortstop."

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