Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Now, Here's a Hitter!

This card is part of a subset in the 1973 Topps set featuring the all-time leaders in several batting and pitching categories. This is an amazing record, even today.

Card #475 - Ty Cobb, All-Time Batting Leader

The picture shows Ty Cobb late in his career, when he was a player/coach for the Philadelphia A's. Today, a .367 season average would be considered a feat -- it was last surpassed by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 --  and Cobb managed to do that over a 24-year career. He hit over .400 three times, including one season (1922) when a .401 average wasn't good even enough to lead the league.

Take a look at the back of this card as well:

What's interesting is that there are some names here that aren't well known to even devout baseball fans today. Pete Browning and Dave Orr were 19th century players who aren't in the Hall of Fame due to short careers (though Browning still has an outside chance to squeak in someday). Two other names on the list aren't in the Hall of Fame either: Joe Jackson, whose exclusion was ordered due to his alleged part in the 1919 World Series fix, and Lefty O'Doul, who only played six full seasons.

There must have been some re-evaluation of the record books, as has a slightly different Top 10 list:

Ty Cobb - .3664
Rogers Hornsby - .3585
Joe Jackson - .3558
Lefty O'Doul - .3493
Ed Delahanty - .3458
Tris Speaker - .3447
Billy Hamilton - .3444
Ted Williams - .3444
Dan Brouthers - .3421
Babe Ruth - .3421

As far as the active career batting leader with at least 3,000 plate appearances, Albert Pujols is 29th with a .3323 average 

In the revised list, Orr has fallen to 11th, Browning to 13th and Keeler to 14th. That leaves Shoeless Joe and O'Doul as the only two non-Hall of Fame players on the list.

Since there haven't been any additions to the list (in fact, all the others were done playing in the majors before Williams even took his first big league swing) and the guys listed haven't had any at-bats since this card was printed to change their numbers, it must be assumed either that Topps was working with incomplete records or new information has developed that changed the numbers. For instance, it was later learned that Cobb had been given credit for two hits that were later disallowed, which explains why his average now shows as .366 instead of the .367 mark given on the card.


  1. It seems like Topps either had incomplete records for the pre-1900 hitters or there just wasn't as much info about pre-1900 hitters in 1972, as all of the players affected in the list the most are the pre-1900 guys.

    The back of that '72 card looks so primitive, esp. compared with the backs of the other '72 cards. It looks like someone stuck the back of the card in a typewriter and started tapping away!

  2. Most definitely that the researchers are attacking the old records. Remember, research by Retrosheet changed the RBI title for one year in the early 60's so that Jim Gentile got his $5,000 bonus.

    There was also a debate whether to use National Association stats (1871-75) as Major League stats. The old encyclopedias did not.