Bill Lange: Best Player in History Not in the HOF?

Michael WCorrespondent IIMay 8, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 23:   A 1927 New York Yankees autographed team photo is seen at a Sotheby's preview of a baseball memorabilia sale titled 'The Babe Comes Home' November 23, 2004 in New York City. The sale will feature important historical baseball relics with items including the bat which Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A Quick history

I realize that Bill Lange will likely never get into the HOF because he had a fairly short career. He only played in @ 800 games. But putting length of career aside, he was the best player in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF, with arguments from Smokey Joe Wood at Starting Pitcher, if you ask me.

Why did Bill Lange have such a short career?

Here's the short condensed answer to that question: Lange was a Center Fielder during the 1890s and played for Cap Anson for Chicago. You have to remember that not only did MLB players not make a lot of $ back then, they were also looked at by the general public as-what's the word-low life's.

Lange fell in love with a woman from a well to do family and her father made it apparently clear that she could not associate with a lowly MLB player. Lange was at a crossroads, he walked away from the game and never returned so he could marry her. Despite lucrative offers to return to the game after he was married, he refused.

The offers were so high that they would have made him the highest paid player in history at the time (even higher than Honus Wagner), that's how good Lange was. But he refused the offers, never returned to the game. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce, some years later. That's the quick condensed answer anyway.

Lange was the caliber player as many of the all time great Center Fielders, no question. He just had a fairly short career. Lange was, at least arguably, one of the three best defensive Center Fielders in the history of MLB, an A + defensively, for sure.

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He was also an A + offensively. A .330 career BA and he had a .389 BA during the 1895 season, which is still the Chicago Cubs single season BA record. No question he was a great pure hitter and he was also a powerful hitter during the 1890s.

Lange was also nothing less than a brilliant base runner. In just @ 800 career games, he compiled 400 SB.

It's an incredible fact. The fact of the matter, Lange is fifth all time in the history of MLB in SB per AB, behind only Billy Hamilton, Rickey Henderson, Otis Nixon and Vince Coleman. Certainly one of the best and most prolific base runners the game has ever seen.

What can you say, he did it all offensively, he was certainly an A + offensively and an A + defensively. He just gets a D - in the length of career category.

Five old quotes from those that saw him play (And one recent quote):

The five old quotes:

Quote One-"Ty Cobb and Bill Lange always present themselves before me for comparison, and, despite all the praise they lavish on Ty Cobb, I cannot see where Lange was his inferior...if ever two men, of strangely different physical and temperamental types, were to be counted as an equal, well matched pair, these two were Ty Cobb and Bill Lange...Bill Lange is one of the greats ballplayers the game has ever known."--Bill Phelon, respected writer for Baseball Magazine, 1915

Quote Two-"For my all time outfield, I take Ty Cobb, Bill Lange and Shoeless Joe Jackson."--Tim Murnane, respected writer for Boston Globe, 1914

Quote Three-"I have seen all the other great outfielders, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, I have seen them all in action and I consider Bill Lange the equal of, if not better than, all outfielders of all time."--Clark Griffith, respected baseball historian and HOFer, 1950

Quote Four-"Bill Lange is Ty Cobb enlarged, fully great in speed, batting skill and base running."--Al Spink, founder and editor of The Sporting News, 1920

Quote Five-"Bill Lange was in a class by himself as an outfielder. He was a better outfielder than Ty Cobb or Tris Speaker."--Cap Anson, HOF player and historian, 1917

The two recent quotes:

Quote One-"Bill Lange is a top tier Hall of Fame player...I personally place him in my Top 20 greatest all around players of all time."--Bill Burgess, respected baseball historian, 2005

Quote Two-"Bill Lange was probably the greatest all-around athlete to play Major League Baseball in the nineteenth century."--Bill James, respected baseball historian/godfather of the modern rating system and SABRmetrics, 2002

Of course, Bill James rates Lange @ the 60th best overall Center Fielder of all time after his great quote. He doesn't letter grade them, but we could safely call that a B+. Nothing could be further from the truth, Bill James.

Lange is an A + offensively AND an A + defensively, no question. I've never heard anyone argue withthat. Looks like Bill James is including that D - Length of Career in there, huh? A lot of historians do it.

But put length of career aside, Lange is the best ever. An A + offensively and Defensively. What else is there?

Again, I realize he will likely never get into the HOF with his fairly short career. But let's not forget that he was certainly a HOF "caliber" player, arguably 1 of the 10 best Center Fielders in the history of MLB.

Here's to you Bill Lange, may you never be forgotten. Or should I say, may you "start" being remembered. 

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