Ray Schalk on “Baseball Brains”

1 Feb

After the Chicago White Sox defeated the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series, Sox catcher Ray “Cracker” Schalk took to the pages of “Baseball Magazine” with his opinion of statistics:

Ray Schalk

Ray Schalk

“Offhand I would say that fielding averages are pretty bad, pitchers’ averages rather punk, batting averages merely fair.  But the worst of all are catchers’ averages.

“How are you going to tell a good catcher?  By his batting average?  By his fielding average?  By the runs he scores?  Of course all these things are important.  But they haven’t any direct connection with good, bad or indifferent catching as such.  A catcher may or may not be a good batter or base runner.  And whatever his hitting or run getting ability he may be a great or mediocre catcher.”

Schalk said it was “easy…from the records” to determine an outfielder or shortstop’s ability:

“But a man might be the best catcher the world ever saw or the worst, and there would be no way under heaven to gain that information from the season’s statistics.

“First of all, a catcher must have baseball brains.  It isn’t enough to say brains; you must add the adjective ‘baseball’ to describe what you mean.”

Schalk noted that many of his contemporaries were educated:

“I admit this is the day of the college player in baseball.  I admit that the better education a man has, other things being equal, the better ball player he will be.  But he might know a lot of philosophy or Greek literature and be a frost on foul flies.  Ty Cobb has the ideal baseball brains.  But Ty isn’t a college man.  On the other hand I used to play in the minors with a graduate of a well-known university who was a brilliant scholar and a good natural athlete.  But he was positively the limit in playing baseball.  He would do the most incomprehensible things.  In fact, he was impossible.

Hans Wagner and Nap Lajoie are not college men, have not enjoyed as liberal an education, perhaps, as most of the rest of us.  But if any medical laboratory wants a sample of a real baseball brain, let him open negotiations with the Dutchman or the Frenchman for the use of his skull when he is thru with it.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

“I believe there are fellows with a natural born instinct to play baseball.  They invariably do the right thing at the right time.  That is what I mean by baseball brains.  Furthermore, such a brain must above all act quickly.  There are many thousands of people, even in the stands, who understand good baseball and could dope out the proper thing for a fielder or a batter to do under given conditions.  But that isn’t enough.  The man with a baseball brain must not only do the right thing but he must do it instantly.  It is quickness of thought quite as much as correctness which marks the star player.  Hal Chase and Ty Cobb are scintillating examples of quick thought on the diamond.”

And, said Schalk, “quick thought” was most important behind the plate:

“Now the catcher, above all men, must have a good baseball brain.  Most of his work, the most important part of his work, is hidden from the spectators’ eye.  The man in the stands can seldom follow what is going on in the catcher’s brain.  But the catcher, much more than the pitcher, holds the game in the hollow of his hand.  The catcher, much more than the pitcher, is the keystone of the baseball arch.”

The man who thought statistics didn’t have “any direct connection” to a catcher’s value made it into the Hall of Fame in 1955.  He has the lowest career average (.253) among enshrined catchers.

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