TWIBH Episode 59: Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green Go on Walkabout

56 years ago last week, two-sport star Gene Conley and long-delayed-first-African-American Red Sock Pumpsie Green got off the team bus and just kind of…disappeared for a while. Conley longer than Green. It was very weird, and they were both very weird, interesting characters, so they and their “intentional walk” are our topic for Episode 59.

Much like Conley, I disappeared from this space without explanation for a week. But like Green and Conley, I came back!

0:00: Intro; Mike and Bill are tired of the position players pitching thing.
2:53: Mike takes us through Gene Conley’s life and multiple careers.
17:04: Bill on Pumpsie Green’s career, and some ranting on Tom Yawkey’s disgusting racism.
32:04: Mike on the incident that came to be known as “Conley’s Intentional Walk”; at 36:18, the rest of Conley’s life.
38:14: Bill on the rest of Pumpsie’s life (so far!)
41:25: This Week in Birthdays! Mike has Norm Siebern, and at 44:37, Bill on the great but unfortunately named Jack Glasscock.
Key Resources:
SABR bios for Green, Conley, Siebern and Glasscock.
A Gene Conley obituary. And another.
A 2012 Over the Monster article by Marc Normandin on the disappearance.
Here’s the full text of Adam Darowski‘s commentary on Glasscock from my DMs:
In 2013, I became chair of SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legends committee. The role was a chance to combine two of my favorite passions—statistical analysis of Hall of Fame cases and early baseball history. We’re all familiar with the statistical cases of players like Larry Walker and Alan Trammell. But I was always strangely interested in the statistical cases of Deacon White, Bill Dahlen, and other 19th Century stars.

White and Dahlen fared very well on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot with White getting inducted and Dahlen falling two votes shy. I’m always drawn to the underdog and have been building the case for 19th Century shortstop Jack Glasscock ever since. Glasscock didn’t even appear on that 2013 ballot (nor did he appear again in 2016 when Doc Adams fared well but Dahlen lost momentum).

Glasscock, like Dahlen and White, fit the profile of a player overlooked by Cooperstown—very good at everything, but lacking the bold offensive numbers. But Glasscock hit very well, twice leading the league in hits and winning the NL batting title in 1890. He hit .290 across 17 seasons with a 112 OPS+. Per Baseball-Reference’s WAR he was worth 155 runs above average at the plate. Glasscock was also an above average baserunner, but that wasn’t a major part of his game.

Where he drew his modest fame (and a good amount of his WAR total) was his stunning defense. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR, Glasscock was worth 149 runs above average (7th all time among primary shortstops). Can we trust 19th Century defensive numbers? Maybe not. Glasscock’s traditional numbers are eye popping: he led his league’s shortstops in fielding percentage six times (top 3 12x), assists six times (top 3 8x), Range Factor per 9 innings five times (top 3 10x), double plays four times (top 3 9x), and putouts twice (top 3 9x).

His reputation in his time was impeccable and he earned the nickname “King of Shortstops.” Al Spink, founder and editor of The Sporting News, raved that Glasscock “was acknowledged by all his fellow players to be the greatest in [sic] his position” and “one of the greatest players from a fielding standpoint the game has ever known.”

Glasscock ticks the advanced metrics, traditional metrics, and anecdotal boxes when it comes to his defensive reputation. If you’re 150 runs above average as a hitter and defender while playing shortstop for your entire career, you provided Hall of Fame value. I don’t feel that’s too big of a leap. But here we are and Glasscock can’t even get on the ballot to be considered.

Deacon White had supporters for decades. Dahlen has a book written about him. Glasscock has nobody. I’ve even tried contacting his descendants and can’t seem to get them excited about supporting his candidacy either. That’s probably why Glasscock is so important to me. He’s MY candidate. He’s the Indie band I love that nobody else seems to appreciate. But his greatness is right there for anyone willing to look slightly deeper than the surface.
And as always, don’t drill a hole in your head!

About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.