By Glen Sparks
Edd Roush gave his Hall of Fame speech–finally–at age 69. Getting into Cooperstown wasn’t easy for the outfielder, who played 18 seasons and retired with a .323 batting average.
Roush first made it onto the ballot in 1936. He garnered just 0.9 percent of the vote. Less than one percent. This for a guy who not only hit .323 lifetime, but who also led the National League in batting in 1917 (.341) and 1919 (.321) for the Cincinnati Reds.
The Oakland City, Ind., product played with the Reds for 12 of his 18 seasons. In 1918, he topped the N.L. in slugging percentage (.455), OPS (.823) and OPS+ (151).
Roush retired with 2,376 hits, 1,099 runs scored, 339 doubles, 182 triples and an OPS+ of 126. He finished in the top 10 in batting average nine times and oWAR seven times. He hit at least .339 for six straight seasons, 1920-25. The 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pounder wielded a humongous 48-ounce bat, one of the biggest in history. In addition, some players and managers rated him the top defensive center fielder of the Dead Ball era.
It still wasn’t enough for the baseball writers. Roush’s vote percentage didn’t even hit double digits until 1947 (15.5). He got 14 percent the following season but dipped below 10 percent the following three years. The best showing for Roush on the regular ballot was in 1960, in his final year of eligibility, when he garnered 54.3 percent of the vote, or 20.7 percent less than what he needed. It looked like Roush would be shut out of Cooperstown.
The Veterans Committee, though, selected him for enshrinement two years later. What took so long–31 years after retiring—for Roush to make it to the Hall of Fame? Let’s take a closer look at his career.
One argument against Roush is that he missed a lot of games. He played for the money (imagine that!), and he admitted it. He showed up late for spring training, in part because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and his contract disputes weren’t always settled by opening day. Did some Hall of Fame voters remember this, and recall Roush as a malcontent? The press leaned heavily toward the ownership’s viewpoint in those days.
Some New York voters probably remembered Roush’s uneasy days early in his career with the Giants. Supposedly, Roush despised both the Big Apple and Giants Manager John McGraw, who frequently cussed at and chewed out his players. “That didn’t go with me,” Roush is quoted in a Society for American Baseball Research article written by Jim Sandoval. Things got so bad in upper Manhattan that McGraw shipped Roush to Cincinnati. Did the writers think that Roush couldn’t handle discipline?
Interestingly, McGraw—not quite through with Roush–reacquired the outfielder after the 1926 season. Roush probably wasn’t happy. McGraw probably didn’t care. The skipper told Roush, according to the Sandoval article, “You’re either going to play for me, or you’re not going to play at all.” (One can imagine Roush rolling his eyes and thinking to himself, “Here we go again.”)
Anyway, Roush hit .304 for the Giants in 1927 and .324 in 1929, with an injury-riddled 1928 (46 games played) wrapped in between. As a 37-year-old in 1930, Roush put up the Gone Fishin’ sign. He held out the entire season. (This was just a few months after the Great Crash of ’29, remember. Presumably, a bulk of Roush’s financial portfolio was in cash.)
In 1931, Roush returned to Cincinnati and to the Reds. He batted .271 in 101 games and called it quits. He coached for one season-1938—but he ran the Montgomery County, Ind., cemetery for 35 years and also served as president of a local bank for quite some time. And, the guy who held out from spring training so many times went down to Florida in March most years to talk baseball with Reds players like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.
Roush was most similar to players like Pie Traynor, Dixie Walker, Willie McGee, Joe Kelley and Paul Hines, some Hall of Famers, some not. He retired with just 14 Black Ink points (The average amount for a Hall of Famer is 27.) and 127 Grey Ink points (The average HOFer has 144.). Roush is rated the 36th best center-fielder of all-time, according to JAWS (Jaffe War Score System), a formula developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe. JAWS relies heavily on WAR performance; Roush’s career WAR was 45.2 with a seven-year peak of 31.5. His JAWS career score was 38.3, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Hack Wilson 37.3 and Hugh Duffy (36.9) but behind plenty of non-Hall of Famers (Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Vada Pinson and Fred Lynn among others).
Roush lived another 25 years after being named to the Hall of Fame. He threw out the first pitch at the last game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, June 24, 1970. Joe Morgan called Roush “the best of us all.”