When baseball historians think of a second baseman from the Deadball Era the first name that pops in their mind is Nap Lajoie, and rightly so. The Frenchman was in a league to his own but there was another player at the position who excelled before World War I and he was John McGraw’s captain for the New York Giants, Larry Doyle. Doyle was in stark contrast to the common portrait of McGraw–the tongue-lashing, umpire accosting skipper of the great Giants squads of the early 20th Century. Nicknamed “Laughing Larry,” Doyle had a sunny disposition but despite their dissimilarities, Doyle and Mack had a mutual respect for one another. Doyle may have been a happy-go-lucky type of guy, but he was a gamer and that endeared him to the fiery McGraw.
There are two second basemen from Doyle’s era in the Hall of Fame: the aforementioned Lajoie and the Cubs’ Johnny Evers. Before them, only Bid McPhee is in the Hall of Fame among second basemen. Laughing Larry was an exceptional ballplayer and although not up to the ranks of Lajoie–no one was–he has career numbers quite superior to Evers. Doyle and Evers have their similarities–both played second base during the Deadball Era, both batted from the left side of the dish, they each posted solid on-base percentages and each man won an MVP Award during his career. They were both star second basemen in baseball’s early period and each was known for his exaggerated disposition: Doyle’s was sunny and Evers’ was morose. Players across the National League referred to the twitchy, short-fused Evers as “The Crab.”
Named the National League’s MVP in 1912–two years before Evers netted his MVP Award–Doyle was the heart and soul of the Giants lineup. The Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance had their run from 1906 to 1910 and then it was McGraw’s turn to take the NL. Laughing Larry, who led the league in hits twice and once apiece in doubles and triples, had a superior slash line to both Evers and McPhee. When Doyle ended his playing days, he had a slash of .290 BA/.357 OBP/.408 SA. Both McPhee and The Crab were close to Doyle in on-base percentage but were well behind him in both batting average and slugging average. Evers’ career slash line is .270 BA/.356 OBP/.334 SA while the old second baseman from the late 1800s, Biddy McPhee, had a slash of .272 BA/.355 OBP/.373 SA.
Johnny Evers became famous with his double play partners, Joe Tinker and Frank Chance, when a poet penned a little ditty about the trio turning twin-killings with unrivalled skill. Although a solid trio, they weren’t anymore crackerjack at turning double plays than other groups. Over the course of The Crab’s career he turned 688 double plays while Laughing Larry, who played in about as many contests as Evers, turned a little more with 694. They were both sound fielders but the edge in overall play clearly goes to Doyle. Larry averaged 0.544 runs scored per game over his career with an average of 0.449 RBI per game. The Crab, by contrast, averaged 0.515 runs scored per game and a measly 0.302 RBI per game.
Listed below are Doyle’s career stats compared to The Crab’s.
RUNS: Doyle 960, Evers 919
HITS: Doyle 1887, Evers 1659
DOUBLES: Doyle 299, Evers 216
TRIPLES: Doyle 123, Evers 70
RBI: Doyle 793, Evers 538
The edge in every category listed above goes to Laughing Larry. An interesting fact about Doyle is that he performed a feat that neither Nap Lajoie nor Honus Wagner could duplicate. During the Deadball Era, when homeruns were hard to come by, Doyle was the only Major League middle infielder from 1901 to 1920 to post back-to-back seasons with double-digit homerun totals. Most people would assume that the legendary Lajoie or Wagner would have achieved the feat if asked–but few would answer correctly with Doyle.
Although Doyle’s career isn’t quite up to the standards of Lajoie, he exceeded all other second basemen from that time in many offensive categories. Even though Bid McPhee played before Doyle, during the offensive heights of the 1890s, Larry was able to post more seasons with 150+ hits than either McPhee or Evers. Doyle had five such campaigns while McPhee managed three. Hall of Famer Johnny Evers, Doyle’s most accurate peer, only fashioned one such season during his tumultuous career.