A Case for Jim McCormick

The human mind is an interesting thing.  That which is no longer current is easily forgotten–lost among the bombardment of steady images the mind is ceaselessly exposed to.  What is seen today is impressed upon the mind, seemingly pushing aside images viewed days prior.  However, when we think in terms of decades rather than days, the collective human memory is reliant, chiefly, on outside influences, such as historians whose occupation it is to keep bygone days fresh in the mind of the populace.  When the focus is on the world of sports, teams that existed many decades ago but field not a team today, are as lost to the common fan as modern man is separated from the common toil of his ancestors.  What was common yesterday may not be common today, but was commonplace to persons from the past.  The Cleveland Blues, a team not known to the average baseball fan, is a club that boasted the services of the great Jim McCormick, whose name, thanks to his association with the obscure, is lost to many baseball fanatics.

In the game’s early years, Jim McCormick was one of the finest hurlers in the professional ranks.  Such stars as Al Spalding, Jim Creighton and Dick McBride captured the baseball fan’s attention before, during and after the Civil War, for they were the game’s top pitching sensations.  Later, stars like Tim Keefe, Old Hoss Radbourn and Pud Galvin became common names among the sporting pages for their pitching exploits.  These men were stars, and the latter trio Hall of Famers, but the name Jim McCormick is one that should rest among them. 

During McCormick’s time pitchers were expected to be made of iron.  The man who took the mound in the game’s opening frame was expected to be there when the last out was recorded.  Jim McCormick was made of such metal.  Jim completed 466 of his career 485 starts and on five separate occasions, he eclipsed the 500 innings pitched plateau in a single season.  Pitchers nowadays rarely work 200 innings a season, lest their name be Halladay or King Felix.  The star pitchers of McCormick’s era all had rather identical stats when it came to completing their games, but their peripheral stats didn’t quite mirror one another so well.

Around the time McCormick was starring in the pro ranks, pitchers like John Clarkson, Galvin, Keefe, Radbourn, and Mickey Welch were starring as well.  The five men named after Jim all were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but were they any better than McCormick?  The following brackets list these men in order of best to worst in both earned run average and WHIP.

ERA: McCormick 2.43, Keefe 2.63, Radbourn 2.68, Welch 2.71, Clarkson 2.81 and Galvin 2.85

WHIP: Keefe 1.123, McCormick 1.132, Radbourn 1.149, Galvin 1.191, Clarkson 1.209 and Welch 1.226

McCormick is the top man in ERA among the star pitchers of the 1800s and was Sir Timothy Keefe’s runner-up in the WHIP crown.  These two stats are regarded by many as the two most important stats to judge pitchers.  A hurler’s win-loss record is a poor indicator of the pitcher’s worth because many lesser pitchers were able to win on powerfully offensive teams while some star hurlers toiled on clubs with a woeful offense, thus posting poor records.  Felix Hernandez comes to mind as a modern day star pitcher saddled to a poor team.  The best way to judge the merits of a pitcher is by how well he restricts runs, and in order to restrict the scoring of runs by the opposition, an elite pitcher keeps runners off base, thus limiting the chances for the enemy to score.  At this, McCormick was solid.

McCormick, who rests in the Top 40 all-time in both the career wins and ERA departments, posted some amazing single season stats his Hall of Fame peers could not duplicate.  His best single season WHIP was an amazing 0.786.  The top single season WHIPs of the Hall of Fame Five are listed hereafter: Keefe 0.800, Radbourn 0.922, Clarkson 0.953, Galvin 0.988 and Welch 1.022.  And in the ERA department, Jim enjoyed four seasons with a sub 2.00 mark.  None of his Hall of Fame peers could match his total as Keefe had three such seasons, Welch two and Clarkson, Galvin and Radbourn had one apiece. 

McCormick was often among the pitching leaders during his career.  He led the league two times apeiece in both ERA and wins while Hall of Famer Mickey Welch never led the league in either category and Pud Galvin was able to lead his league just once in ERA without ever claiming a wins crown.  In fact, when you compare Jim with Pud Galvin, you see a pitcher, in McCormick, far more difficult to hit.  In just three seasons McCormick allowed more hits than innings worked while Galvin surrendered over a hit per inning in a whopping twelve campaigns. 

Perhaps one the best ways to acknowledge pitching excellence is by focusing on a hurler’s strikeout-to-walk ratio.  The WHIP category is a better indicator of a pitcher’s success because it takes into account hits allowed as well, but the SO/BB ratio is the foundation of WHIP–with the hits allowed addition to the equation.  Jim owned a remarkable 2.28 SO/BB mark over the course of his career.  Only Pud Galvin, who Jim tops in ERA and WHIP, had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (Pud’s WHIP was swollen because he was easy to hit) among the Hall of Fame Five.  Jim’s 2.28 mark eclipses Radbourn’s 2.09, Keefe’s 2.08, Clarkson’s 1.66 and Welch’s 1.43.

    • brettkiser said:

      Since I’ve taken an interest in baseball history, I have viewed McCormick as the most underrated pitcher of the 1800s. He certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his Hall of Fame peers like Galvin, Clarkson and Welch. I’ll take a gander at your link.

      • I run something of an “alternate Hall of Fame” (the Hall of wWAR) and I have him ahead of Welch and Galvin by a decent amount, but trailing Clarkson quite a bit.

        Among 19th century pitchers outside of the Hall, I have him trailing Bob Caruthers (by a lot), Tony Mullane, and Charlie Buffinton. The rating system is weighted WAR, which may give Buffinton too much value for peak (he had one ridiculous season with over 15 WAR). I’d put him behind Caruthers and perhaps behind Mullane by a bit.

  1. JasonFonseca said:

    Who in the veteran committee can be reached in order to have Jim mccormick considered for the hall of fame?

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