In 1896, Hall of Fame shortstop Hughie Jennings batted .401 and scored 125 runs while driving in 121. That’s a pretty great season, of course, but not that unusual, particularly during the era when hitting .400 was reasonably feasible. In fact, there were 17 seasons–all between 1887 and 1941–in which a player batted .400 or better with more than 100 RBI and runs scored. Rogers Hornsby and George Sisler did it twice, Ed Delahanty three times.
What I find so fascinating about Jennings’ 1896 is he’s the only player in history to both score and drive in more than 100 in a season without hitting a single home run. 35 players have done so hitting five homers or less, but Jennings is the only guy on the list who didn’t go yard once during the season in question.
He’s not the only player to bat .400 without a round-tripper, though. Willie Keeler did that in 1897, Davy Force and Cap Anson in 1872, and Cal McVey and Ross Barnes in 1871. Those last four were all in the National Association during seasons when the schedule length was significantly shorter, but they all qualified for the batting title.
The other fascinating thing about Jennings in 1896 was he only walked 19 times in 602 plate appearances, yet his OBP was 71 points higher than his batting average. That’s because he was hit by a pitch 51 times.
Using the B-R Play Index–as I did for some of the previous statistical distinctions in this post–I also discovered Jennings is the only player in baseball history to have a 2.5-to-1 HBP-to-BB ratio, with a minimum of 10 BB in a single year.
Of course, that’s not surprising to those who remember Craig Biggio’s run at Jennings’ career HBP mark that fell two short when he was hit just three times–the second-lowest total of his career–in his final season in 2007. Apparently the pressure was just too much for Craig.
Looking at the rest Hughie’s career, he’s considered a bit of a borderline Hall of Fame selection. Not a completely undeserving player like Tommy McCarthy, but not as much of a slam dunk as his 1945 election would suggest.
His tremendous 1896 season lands right in the middle of an exceptional five-year peak. Take a gander at these numbers:
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That’s definitely a Hall-worthy five-year stretch. Unfortunately, outside of those years, Jennings was worth just 6.9 WAR and -2 WAA. Not surprisingly, as is the case with many players of his era–or any era, for that matter–whose skills faded at a young age, an injury had something to do with his downfall. He threw out his arm in 1899, forcing a move from shortstop to first base, and was never the same player after that.
Although inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player, perhaps his time spent as a manager was a factor in his election. He led the Detroit Tigers to AL pennants in his first three seasons as skipper, although a pair of outfielders named Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford probably had something to do with the team’s success.