“He was Greater than Ty Cobb ever dared to be.”

15 Aug

Hall of Famer Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley still holds the all-time record for putouts and total chances for first baseman, more than 100 years after his career ended.  He also hit .308 for his career and his 244 triples rank fourth on the all-time list.

However, it appears he wasn’t a great source on who was the greatest player ever.

Jake "Eagle Eye" Beckley

Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley

In 1915 Beckley told a Kansas City reporter that he had played with the greatest player ever.  Over the next year the quotes appeared in many newspapers including The Washington Post and The Pittsburgh Press:

“You can have your Ty Cobbs and your Benny Kauffs, I’ll take Billy Sunday for my ball club right now, and I said the same thing back in the nineties.”

Beckley said the ballplayer turned evangelist was as good as any player he’d seen:

“He’s fifty-two years old today, but he’s running bases and sliding every day in that pulpit just as he did back in the old days.  If he’d stayed in the game Cobb never would have been famous.

“He was greater than Ty Cobb ever dared to be in three departments of the game.

“Everybody thinks Cobb can run bases.  I’d spot him a second against Billy Sunday and then watch Bill score first.”

Sunday was the first player to circle the bases in 14 seconds.

“They think Cobb covers outfield territory.  They should have seen Sunday in his prime.

“And throw—say he could throw from center field just as easily as Tris Speaker.”

Beckley had several excuses for Sunday’s weaknesses as a hitter:

“Batting was where Sunday was weak, but in another year or so he would have overcome that weakness.  E was just that kind.

“He had more fight in his heart than any man I ever saw.  He was learning more about the art and science of batting every day.

“You see, Billy Sunday broke in under a handicap.  Pop Anson picked him up because of his speed and not because of his baseball ability.  He was fast, but when he started in a bat was strange to him.

“He fanned so many times his first year (18 in 55 plate appearances) he must have been busy when the season ended.  But when he came to our ball club (Pittsburgh Alleghenys 1888) he was improving and improving fast.”

Sunday’s “fast” improvement resulted in .236, .240 and .258 batting averages from 1888-1890.

Beckley concluded that Sunday’s “calling” was the real reason he never became a good hitter:

“But he didn’t give enough attention to his batting.  He used to spend a lot of time before the game in the clubhouse always reading the bible or studying.”

Sunday walked away from baseball after the 1890 season to accept the position of assistant secretary with the YMCA in Chicago; he became one of the nation’s most popular evangelists and died in 1935.

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Beckley played until 1907, collecting 2934 hits during his 20-year career.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971, more than 50 years after he died in Kansas City at age 50.

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2 Responses to ““He was Greater than Ty Cobb ever dared to be.””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “This Wealth of Mr. Gertenrich has cost the Game an A-1 Player” | Baseball History Daily - July 7, 2014

    […] as a proverbial lark, capering in the Springfield pasture and slamming that old ball like seven Cobbs and a Lajoie thrown in for […]

  2. “He Used to Knock Down Infielders” | Baseball History Daily - July 23, 2016

    […] have seen all the other great outfielders—Speaker, Cobb, DiMaggio –in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders […]

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