It started years ago with an old baseball book purchased at a yard sale, probably for a few cents. The kid flipped though its pages and learned that one of the best players in the early 1900s was from the next town over.
That piqued his interest and has held it ever since.
Mel George is 71 now and the author of a 31-page report he hopes, against long odds, will lead to Stuffy McInnis being voted into the Hall of Fame.
“It’s not really a hobby,” said George, who is from Rockport. “It’s more a labor of love.”
George never met McInnis, who died in 1960 and is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Manchester under a gravestone that makes no mention of his distinguished baseball career.
McInnis made his major league debut at 18 with the Philadelphia Athletics under manager Connie Mack, coming right out of Gloucester High. McInnis soon became a member of the famed “$100,000 Infield” with second baseman Eddie Collins, shortstop Jack Barry, and third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker.
That wasn’t their combined salaries, mind you. It was the quartet’s estimated value to the Athletics.
McInnis helped Philadelphia to World Series championships in 1910, ’11, and ’13. The group broke up after the 1914 season, but McInnis stayed with the Athletics through 1917. He was then traded to the Red Sox and went on to play with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Braves, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
McInnis had 56 RBIs for the 1918 Red Sox, who went on to win the World Series. Only Babe Ruth, with 61, had more. McInnis was a valuable bench player for the 1925 Pirates when they won the World Series.
His playing career ended in 1926, although McInnis played briefly in one game in ’27 in his one season managing the Phillies. McInnis then coached at Norwich University, the Brooks School, Amherst, and Harvard before his death at age 69.
George was 11 at the time. In the years since, he has read all he could find about McInnis.
“I took an interest because he was from the North Shore and it seemed to me he had slipped through the cracks historically,” George said. “I feel he was one of the best first basemen of his era and belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
McInnis was a career .307 hitter with a .343 on-base percentage and 2,405 hits. He hit .301 or better 12 times in 18 seasons.
But McInnis only hit 20 home runs in his career. His value was built around batting average, dependability, good defense, and a willingness to move runners along.
His 383 sacrifices are third all time. He also rarely struck out, only 251 times in 7,822 career at-bats.
George identified 17 players from 1901-30 who had at least 2,400 hits and a career batting average above .300. McInnis is the only one not in the Hall of Fame.
He attributes the lack of home runs to McInnis having played much of his career in the Dead Ball Era and being more of a contact hitter.
George’s report also shows other statistics that compare McInnis favorably with Baker, Harry Hooper, and seven other Hall of Famers of that period.
His defense certainly played. McInnis had a run of 1,700 chances without an error from 1921-22, a record for first basemen that stood until 2008, when Kevin Youkilis broke it.
As George points out, McInnis played during an era when gloves were smaller, the fields bumpier, and the ball harder to see because it wasn’t taken out of play as often and got smudged with dirt.
McInnis, only 5 feet 8 inches, had a career fielding percentage of .993. There were no Gold Glove awards at the time and George estimates McInnis would have won at least six had there been.
George believes two Hall of Fame first basemen from that era — George Sisler and George “High Pockets” Kelly — have overshadowed McInnis historically.
“McInnis didn’t have the home runs, but style of the day was to move runners along. It was a low-scoring game,” George said. “That was one his strengths, playing small ball. He is a player you have to take an objective look at.”
George makes good points. But McInnis also had a .705 OPS after he left the Athletics. It’s difficult to compare players across eras, but good defensive first basemen with a high batting average but little power haven’t fared well in Hall of Fame voting. Sacrifice bunts don’t impress voters.
Also damning is that McInnis was on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot seven times from 1937-51 but never received more than 5.2 percent of the vote.
He has since been passed over by the Veterans Committee several times.
What is likely a final chance will come up later this year when the Hall’s Historical Overview Committee selects 10 candidates for what is now called the Early Baseball Era ballot. That encompasses players and contributors who had their greatest impact before 1950.
A separate 16-member committee will then vote on those candidates in December. As is the case with the BBWAA election, 75 percent of the votes are required for induction.
The Early Baseball Era Committee will not meet again until 2030.
George sent 10 copies of his report to the Hall of Fame and hopes they will get in the right hands.
“It would be a great if he makes it,” said George, a retired DPW worker who roots for the Red Sox. “It’s been a passion of mine to do the research and hopefully he’ll get consideration. It would be nice for people on the North Shore to be able to celebrate that.”
Martinez missing prime time
J.D. Martinez was just another guy for the first three seasons of his major league career, a .251 hitter with occasional power who was released by the Astros just before the start of the 2014 season.
He has been one of the best players in the game since, the product of an improved swing and a fanatical devotion to pregame preparation. That led to a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox.
That makes sitting around waiting for the pandemic to end particularly difficult for him.
“It’s as frustrated as I’ve felt in a long time,” Martinez said. “We were getting ready for the season and then I was driving back home from Fort Myers. This is the first time in almost my entire life I haven’t had a baseball season.”
Martinez understands the situation goes far beyond baseball. One of his close friends contracted COVID-19 and fortunately recovered. He also worries about members of his family, particularly his parents.
“It’s scary, man,” he said. “You feel helpless.”
From a statistical standpoint, Martinez needs 69 home runs for 300 in his career and 289 RBIs for 1,000. Only 139 players in history have hit those marks. With every game missed, Martinez loses opportunities to make a deeper impact on the game.
“I’m in my 30s, that’s old with the way we’re going now,” the 32-year-old Martinez said. “I want to be out there playing. But I’m going fishing instead.”
Martinez has the right to opt out of his contract after this season. But with the pandemic costing teams millions in lost revenue, free agency will be a risky proposition for any player. It seems almost certain that Martinez will be tied to the Sox through the 2022 season.
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ David Ortiz is riding out the pandemic at his home in Miami with his wife, Tiffany, their children, and his father.
With the plight of the Boston area on his mind, Ortiz helped arrange for a group of companies — none that he has an active endorsement contract with — to supply goods and services to first responders and people in need.
One thousand $5 Dunkin’ gift cards were distributed to nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. The Boston Food Bank received 8,000 boxes of Scotties tissues, 2,400 bags of Cavendish fries, and 1,000 bottles of BodyArmor.
Day 3‼️- Part 2 - i’m working with @DrinkBODYARMOR to donate 40 cases to the Greater Boston Food Bank to help their cause. If u can please consider donating to your local pantry, soup kitchen, or to anyone in need… no donation is too small!!! @Gr8BosFoodBank #ThankYourHeroes pic.twitter.com/CfaOF1LO8T— David Ortiz (@davidortiz) May 8, 2020
The Boston Fire Department took delivery of 3,000 bottles of Oxigen water. Also donating cases of their products to police and fire departments were One protein bars, Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, and Skinny Dipped Almonds.
JetBlue provided 10 round-trip travel certificates to be given to people who have gone beyond to help others. Recommendations for those awards can be made via Ortiz’s social media accounts starting on Sunday.
▪ Mitch Moreland, appearing on NESN with Tom Caron this past week, showed off the cage in his new barn. He also has a pitching machine and has been taking plenty of cuts.
Moreland purchased a new property last summer and built the barn first. It’s adjacent to a lake. His family’s new home is under construction now.
“It’s a pretty nice little setup. It’s a lot fun,” Moreland told Caron. “I do some hitting then go straight out and fish.”
Moreland said he was eager to get back to playing, but hopes that doesn’t involve being away from his wife and three kids for months at a time.
▪ Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and first base coach Tom Goodwin participated in a Zoom call for season ticket-holders Thursday. All four acknowledged they had not watched any of the Korea Baseball Organization games now being shown on ESPN.
There appears to be four players with Red Sox ties in Korea, all righthanders: Raul Alcantara (Doosan Bears), William Cuevas (KT Wiz), Casey Kelly (LG Twins), and Seung Song (Lotte Giants).
Kelly, a first-round draft pick in 2008, was traded to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He was 2-11 with a 5.46 ERA in 26 major league games with three teams before going to Korea last season.
Alcantara was signed by the Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 then traded to Oakland two years later. Cuevas appeared in three games for the Sox in 2016 and nine more in 2018.
Song was signed in 1999 out of South Korea for what was then a robust $800,000. He progressed to Double A by 2002 then was traded to Montreal along with countryman Sun-Woo Kim for Cliff Floyd.
Song, 39, never made the majors. But he has pitched 21 years in pro ball. Song is 107-83 with a 4.46 ERA for Lotte since 2007.
▪ NESN will show a selection of Sox games at 6 p.m. this coming week. It starts Monday with Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees.
MLB still has hurdles in its way
Major League Baseball is expected to present a proposal to the Players Association this coming week about starting the season in early July with a “spring training” of 14-21 days in June. It’s subject to negotiation, but both sides have plenty of motivation to reach a deal.
The bigger issue will be the logistics of dealing with a pandemic that is still causing hundreds of deaths a day across the country.
The games successfully being played in Korea and Taiwan offer a blueprint on how to proceed. But both of those countries combated COVID-19 with a unified national plan that included widespread testing, contact tracing, strict quarantines of those who tested positive, and a commitment among the populace to adhere to safety protocols.
None of that yet exist in the United States. Procedures vary from state to state and the approach to the virus has become politicized.
Baseball has teams in 17 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. As “hot spots” of the virus erupt — which experts believe will happen in the coming months — MLB will need the ability to react quickly and move games to safer locations within a day or two. We could well see games played in neutral sites just to get them in.
Playing games without fans shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Gulf Coast League, Arizona Fall League, and Dominican Summer League routinely conduct games with maybe a dozen fans watching, if that.
Even at the higher levels of the minors, a cold or rainy night will leave only a few hundred people watching. Players will adapt quickly to empty seats.
“We’ve dealt with it before,” Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo said. “No fans, just the guys screaming at you, we’ve done it all.”
Having baseball back would be a lift. But it has to be done correctly.
“I think it’s important,” Verdugo said. “But I also think at the same time we have to be cautious and safe . . . I want to make sure that we’re starting it up for the right reasons. I want to make sure everybody’s family is safe and we do everything that’s right and necessary.”
This weekend would have been the first Red Sox-Yankees series of the season . . . According to the Associated Press, the Yankees ($242 million), Dodgers ($222 million), and Astros ($208 million) had the highest projected Opening Day payrolls before baseball was shut down. The Pirates ($54 million), Orioles ($61 million), and Rays ($69 million) had the lowest. The average player salary was approximately $4.4 million for the fifth consecutive season, the longest such stretch with no improvement in the free agent era. MLB revenue has climbed at roughly 4 percent yearly in that time . . . Chester A. Arthur was president and the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883. That also was the last time there was no baseball in April. The American Association had a 98-game season that started May 1 . . . Remember the story we had last month about Bert Thiel, one of two surviving members of the Boston Braves? The Atlanta Braves took notice and manager Brian Snitker sent Thiel a video message when he turned 94 this past week. “Hopefully we have a little baseball coming for you to watch,” Snitker told him . . . Happy birthday to Bryan Villarreal, who is 33. The righthander has one of the least-deserved World Series rings of all time. The Sox acquired Villarreal at the 2013 trade deadline as part of the seven-player, three-team deal that landed Jake Peavy. Villarreal was called up Aug. 19 while the Sox were in San Francisco. A day later, he was called out of the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded of a 2-2 game. Villarreal walked Marco Scutaro on four pitches to force in the winning run. He never pitched in the big leagues again and retired in 2016. Other Sox birthdays on Sunday: George Kottaras (37), Edward Mujica (36), Marino Santana (48), and Pete Schourek (51).