A Case for Jake Daubert

If Christy Mathewson was baseball’s grandest gentleman in the years before World War I, then Jake Daubert wasn’t too far behind him.  Known to the baseball world as “Gentleman Jake,” Daubert was a humble, grounded man, who, despite leaving school at the age of eleven to support his family by working in the coal mines, was an intelligent man who was as successful off the diamond as he was on it.  He never allowed his head to swell and once, before a game, a writer took notice of the dark marks along his hands and Jake told him, “That’s from mining.  And even now when I look at them I sometimes am afraid to speak for fear that all my success is a dream and that I will wake up in the darkness of the mines again.”

In the years before WWI, baseball had a handful of solid first basemen.  The Chicago Cubs had Frank Chance, who made his way to the Hall of Fame and there were slick fielders like Hal Chase, Stuffy McInnis and Fred Tenney who weren’t slouches with the stick either.  However, of the first basemen from 1900 to 1920, Daubert may have been the best.  At that time, first base was more of a defensive oriented position as teams looked for men like Daubert and Chase and Tenney who could snag errant throws with the crude gloves of the day.  Daubert was often cited as the best all-round first baseman during his day, with none other than Hall of Famer Frank Chance–who knew a thing or two about playing the position–supporting Daubert’s claim as the top man at the initial sack during the second decade of the 20th Century.

An Associated Press article circulated around the States showing Daubert in action, reaching up to bring down a wild toss from one of his infield mates.  The caption read: Daubert, an Animated Telescope.  The nimble, sure-fielding Daubert had twelve Top Three finishes in fielding percentage at first base and currently rests 8th all-time in the putouts department among first basemen.  His peers, Jim Bottomley (17th), Hal Chase (19th), George Kelly (50th) and Frank Chance (107th) all rest quite well behind Daubert.  Jake spent the bulk of his career playing first for the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers whose only other star was southpaw Nap Rucker.  Had Jake turned double plays with the more poetic sounding Tinker and Evers, rather than fellows like Cutshaw and O’Mara, perhaps he would have had a catchy limerick or the like written about him like Frank Chance.

The fabled Tinker-Evers-Chance infield was a solid group but their exploits were vastly overrated.  Frank Chance once committed 36 errors in a season and the most double plays he ever turned were 71.  Daubert, by contrast, was a sparkling gem.  Jake never once committed twenty errors in a single season and he once participated in 127 twin-killings in a single campaign–nearly twice as many double plays as the famous Chance turned in his best season.  However, Caveney to Bohne to Daubert doesn’t quite have the same poetic ring as the Chicago trio. 

Daubert was a defensive wiz but his offense wasn’t far behind.  The former Pennsylvania coal-miner is the only player not in the Hall of Fame to have won back-to-back batting titles before World War II.  The left-handed hitter was team captain of the Reds when they won the 1919 World Series–that tainted affair with the Chicago Black Sox.  Captain Daubert lived up to his rank by doing anything necessary to seal victory.  Over the course of baseball history only Hall of Famer Eddie Collins has more career sacrifices than Jake.  Given that Collins played his entire career in the American League and Daubert played every inning in the National League, Jake is the top sacrifice man in NL history.

Although Daubert was ready and willing to sacrifice his stats for a win, he put together some pretty solid career numbers.  He never once failed to reach 110 hits in a single season over the course of his career.  Daubert’s career hits total of 2,326 exceeds peers Frank Chance (1,274) and George Kelly (1,778) by substantial margins.  And the coal-miner was the only one of that famous trio to ever post a 200 hit season.  Hits came easy to Daubert who tallied nine seasons with 150 or more safeties.  Hall of Famer George Kelly had eight, the legendary crook Hal Chase had seven and Cooperstown resident Chance had just one season with 150 or more hits.

Daubert’s value to the Dodgers was not to be dismissed.  Although sportswriters often bickered about who the best first baseman of the time was, Daubert or Hal Chase, no one argued that Prince Hal was a more valuable man than Daubert.  Chase was notorious for making bonehead plays, such as sluggishly retreating to first base to take a throw from an infielder so the batter could beat him to the bag.  He did this to suit the gamblers that he chummed around with.  Given Chase’s unreliable play, despite his exceptional natural ability, Daubert often received more votes in newspaper polls when the merits of first basemen were scrutinized. 

A terrific fielder and solid hitter, Daubert was also a valuable run-scorer for the lowly Dodgers teams he played for.  Had the Brooklyn boys lacked Daubert’s presence, they would have been doormats year after year but Jake helped them climb the standings occasionally.  Compared to Hall of Famer George Kelly, Daubert was a superior run-scorer.  Jake averaged 0.555 runs scored per game, spent predominately before the Lively Ball Era while Hall of Famer George Kelly, whose career took off thanks to the jackrabbit ball, scored an average of 0.505 runs per game.  In a four-year span, Daubert scored 17% of the Dodgers runs in 1911, 12% in 1912, 13% in 1913 and 14% in 1914.  George Kelly, by contrast, who excelled in a higher scoring era than Daubert, scored 10% of the Giants runs in 1920, 11% in 1921, 11% in 1922 and 10% in 1923. 

For all Daubert’s excellence, his do-what’s-best-for-the-team mindset sent him to an early grave.  While still an active player in 1924, Jake suffered from an unknown malady during the pennant rush.  He had trouble sleeping and many writers felt that the numerous beanings the plate-crowding Daubert sustained was the reason for his health woes.  Despite the illness, Jake soldiered on and led the Reds down the stretch.  After the season ended, it was obvious that something was terribly wrong with Daubert.  It was reported that his appendix had ruptured and he was rushed into surgery but it was too late.  Daubert died shortly after the close of the season.  Days before his death,  a writer asked the old coal-miner why he waited til after the season to go under the knife.  Daubert said, “I didn’t want anyone to think that Jake Daubert was a staller.”

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