Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I’m delighted to seize on Dr. Doom’s idea by making a HOF case for this player of whom I’m guessing many of you may not be aware. If you’re not familiar with Hines, he was a center-fielder from the earliest days of major league ball, enjoying his greatest success with the Providence Grays. More after the jump.
Paul Hines played twenty seasons, from 1872 to 1891, amassing 44.9 WAR as measured by Baseball-Reference, including 40.5 WAR for the period since the inception of the NL in 1876. I’ll be basing my argument only on the post-1876 period during which Hines played over 94% of his teams’ games (he missed only 10 games over the first 9 of those seasons) but compiled fewer than 7000 PA. Therein lies the basis for the Hines’s HOF argument: projecting his same level of play over (much) longer modern seasons easily puts Hines in the HOF conversation with career totals well north of 60 WAR. But, before we get to that, let’s take a look at Hines’s career.
Hines debuted in 1872, aged only 17, in the second season of National Association play, competing for a Washington club making its debut in that circuit (for Hines, it may well have been his home town team, as B-R shows his birthplace as Virginia and a resting place in Hyattsville MD, in modern day suburban Washington). That club (the Nationals) lasted but 11 games (all losses) before folding, so Hines suited up the next year for a new Washington club, the Blue Legs, which managed 39 games before suffering the same fate as its predecessor. But, the young Hines had evidently shown enough in those two seasons to attract the attention of the Chicago ball club for it is there that we find him next.
In a more stable environment in Chi-Town, Hines posted 2.7 WAR seasons in 1875 and in the NL’s inaugural campaign in 1876, and did so with some pop, posting OPS+ scores of 149 and 146. While 2.7 WAR may not seem especially noteworthy, remember that that total was achieved in a season of fewer than 70 games; projecting onto a modern season yields totals of 6 to 7 WAR. The White Stockings were the class of the NL in its first season, posting a 52-14 record to claim the pennant by 6 games. It was a different story the next year as the Chicagoans sank to 26-33 and a 5th place finish. White Stocking hitters had amassed 23.4 WAR in 1876 but cratered to 4.3 WAR the next year, so Hines was certainly not alone in experiencing an off year (0 WAR and 97 OPS+). I don’t know whether that decline gave rise to his departure, but the next year found Hines in Providence, playing for the Grays in that franchise’s first season.
Hines enjoyed his greatest success in Providence, playing there for all eight seasons of the franchise’s existence, during which the Grays claimed two pennants and posted three runner-up finishes. In his first year for his new club, Hines recorded baseball’s first triple crown season, while also leading the NL in SLG, OPS and TB. On May 8th of that season, playing against the Boston Red Stockings, Hines is credited with the major leagues’ first unassisted triple play, though whether that’s what really happened has long been the subject of controversy.
In an expanded season in 1879, Hines led the Grays to the pennant, successfully defending his batting crown and matching his career best 177 OPS+ from the year before, while also leading the league with 146 hits and 197 TB (more than 140 years later, the former mark remains the best in any season of fewer than 90 games, while the latter has been eclipsed only three times, most recently by Yordan Alvarez last season). Hines also played every inning of that championship season as the Grays’ center-fielder, among over 1200 CF games compiled for 1876-91, the most over that period and one of only three players with as many games at a single position.
Hines continued his strong play throughout his time in Providence, amassing 26.6 WAR over 705 games and 3250 PA (equivalent to five modern seasons of 141 games and 650 PA). Included was a second championship season in 1884, and a sweep of the post-season series against the AA champion New York Metropolitans.
With the Grays’ demise following the 1885 season, Hines’s time playing for top tier teams came to an abrupt end, as he found himself playing for last or next-to-last place teams for the rest of his career. The one exception came in 1890 when Hines was assigned by the league to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (renamed the Pirates the next year) after the collapse of the Indianapolis franchise, for which Hines had played for the two prior seasons. If there had never been an 1899 Cleveland Spiders team, it would be that 1890 Pittsburgh club that would be remembered as the epitome of futility, posting a 23-113 record while drawing barely 16,000 fans … for the season (due, in part, to playing only 40 home games that year). Perhaps on account of his misfortune in winding up in such a wretched situation, Hines played himself off the team after a woeful (.446 OPS) 31 games and was picked up by the Boston Beaneaters. The Boston team was right at .500 when Hines was acquired but, coincidentally or not, suddenly went on a 26-4 tear to put themselves in the thick of the pennant race, climbing to within a single game of the lead in the last week of August. Alas, a disappointing 7-17 finish scuppered the Beaneaters pennant hopes, but it must have felt awfully good for Hines to be back on a winning ball club, if only for half a season. Hines’s career ended where it began the following year, playing for his fourth Washington franchise in his only season in the AA.
Now to the Hall-of-Fame case. Hines has an impressive list of top 10 finishes, including:
- BA – 7 times
- OBP – 8 times
- SLG – 5 times
- OPS – 7 times
- OPS+ – 9 times
- H – 10 times
- HR – 9 times
- TB – 10 times
- XBH – 8 times
- Range Factor – 9 times (all top 5)
- Fielding % – 7 times (all top 5)
For the 1876-1891 period, Hines compiled these totals.
Those career marks of a .300 BA, 130 OPS+ and 1200 CF games place Hines in this very select company.
If we drop Hines’s final AA season and compare him to his NL brethren, his ranks for the 1876-90 period are 2nd in G, PA, H and XBH (trailing only Cap Anson), 3rd in RBI, 4th in R, and 6th in WAR, with only Jack Glasscock ahead of him in WAR and not in the HOF (Glasscock, with 61.6 career WAR, already has the requisite total of 60, so we don’t have to do a MMHF case for him). 19th century contemporaries of Hines (shown below) with comparable WAR totals are all in the HOF, save for Stovey (played mainly in the AA) and Childs (played mainly after Hines’s career).
As mentioned above, Hines was very durable, playing nearly all of his team games until late in his career. If we project his WAR totals playing the same high proportion of 162 game seasons, we get these results.
- WAR is Actual WAR as measured by Baseball-Reference
- Add’l WAR is the WAR increment added when projecting Actual WAR to a 162 game season at the same proportion of Team Games played.
- Adj. WAR is WAR + Add’l WAR
- Less x% is Adj. WAR minus the indicated % of Add’l WAR to account for the wear and tear of a longer season, greater chance of injury, and the like
- NOTE: Hines played his final game near the middle of the 1891 season, so I have adjusted his WAR for that season only for the equivalent portion of a 162 game season.
So, a straight projection to 162 game seasons yields over 70 WAR. If we want to account for a reduced level of performance owing to longer seasons, 60 WAR is still reached quite comfortably.
As to “what if” questions, an intriguing one is: what if Hines had remained in Chicago? Would he have found his groove in Chicago (as he did in Providence) and been a mainstay of the dominant White Stocking teams of the 1880s? Or, would he have been relegated to a secondary role on a team of stars, perhaps on account of the 1879 debut of Chicago’s new center-fielder, one George “Piano Legs” Gore?
The other what if questions concerns a serious beaning Hines suffered during the 1886 season. While little playing time was lost and any obvious impact on his productivity is not readily apparent, it is known that he suffered immediate hearing loss as a result of the incident, leading to deafness later in life. Perhaps, absent the beaning, Hines’s career might have been extended for a season or two but, of course, that is only conjecture.