Forgotten Hall of Famer Profile: Candy Cummings

Thomas HillContributor IJuly 18, 2009

With 232 players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, it comes as no surprise that many of the game's immortals are unknown to today’s fans. After all, how many of these 232 legendary ballplayers can you name?

Chances are it’s a lot fewer than you think; everyone knows the Cal Ripkens, Nolan Ryans, and Babe Ruths, but what about Gabby Hartnett, Frankie Frisch, and George Kell?

There are many great players, especially those from hall of fame classes inducted over 50 years ago, that for one reason or another have fallen out of recognition as the preeminent players of their time.

This series of articles will take a one-by-one look at some of baseball’s most unknown hall of famers. Up today is Hartford Dark Blue and 1939 inductee, pitcher Candy Cummings.

With a name more fitting for a stripper than a ballplayer in today’s world, Candy Cummings was one of baseball’s best pitchers throughout his brief career. Only playing for six seasons (albeit in the dead-ball, pitchers-pitch-every-day era), Cummings racked up 145 wins against 94 losses (.607 winning percentage) as well as 2149.2 innings and an ERA of 2.49 in his career.

His career ERA+ (adjusted ERA according to the pitcher’s ballpark), a statistic commonly used to compare pitchers from different eras and different run environments, was a phenomenal 120 (100 is league-average).

Cummings threw complete games in 233 of the 241 games he started, and was the first pitcher in the history of the game to start, complete, and win both ends of a doubleheader when he performed the feat on Sept. 9, 1876.

He led the National Association in shutouts during two of the four seasons he pitched for the league, and threw a total of 19 shutouts for his career. Although not the best fielder (64 career errors, including a whopping 23 in 1874 alone, in 481 chances for a career fielding percentage of .867), Cummings is a Hall of Famer for more than just his statistics.

Regarded as the inventor of the curveball, Cummings reportedly was the first to throw the now common pitch in a game when he did it while playing for the Brooklyn Excelsiors (or Brooklyn Stars) in 1867 at the age of 18.

Cummings claimed to have discovered the idea of the curveball by observing the way seashells curved when thrown at the beach. After some experimentation, Cummings began to incorporate the same motion when throwing a baseball, giving birth to the curveball.

In 1877, Cummings left the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 28 to become President of the International Association of Professional Baseball Players, which was conceived as an upstart counterpart league to the more heralded National League, but ultimately disbanded after four seasons before being revived for a brief two-season spurt from 1888-1889. Some consider it to be the first minor league in baseball history.

Inducted posthumously in 1939 along with luminaries such as Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, George Sisler and three others, Candy Cummings was one of the earliest inductees to baseball’s hall of immortality, but has also been one of the quickest to be forgotten.