Bid McPhee and Other Exceptional Defensive Performances: Part I

Perhaps the Hall of Famer that contemporary fans are least familiar with is long-time Cincinnati Reds 2Bman John “Bid” McPhee.  McPhee was essentially the Bill Mazeroski of the 19th Century, only with a better bat than Maz.

Like Mazeroski, who spent all 17 years of his major league career playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, McPhee spent all 18 years of his major league career playing for the Cincinnati Red Stockings/Reds, first in the American Association and then in the National League, when the Cincinnati franchise switched leagues in 1890, in connection with a dispute with St. Louis Browns’ owner Chris Van Der Ahe over selection of a new American Association league president and fallout from the formation of the new Players’ League.

McPhee was almost certainly the best defensive 2Bman of the 19th century.  Bid led his league in putouts, assists or double plays an astounding 25 times in his career.  By way of comparison, other top second base leaders in these three categories in the 19th century are Fred “Dandelion” Pfeffer (19), Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlop (8), Lou Bierbauer and “Black” Jack Burdock (7), John “Cub” Stricker (6) and “Move Up” Joe Gerhardt (5).

Two of McPhee’s single-season defensive feats are particularly noteworthy.  In 1886, Bid set the all-time record for 2Bmen with 529 putouts.  No one has come close to that number before or since.  The closest is Bobby Grich‘s 484 putouts for the 1974 Orioles, 88 years later.

In 1893, McPhee became the first middle infielder in major league history to participate in 100 or more double plays in a season, when he recorded 101.  The next middle infielder to turn 100 or more double plays was Giants’ shortstop and fellow HOFer Dave “Beauty” Bancroft in 1921.

One thing I do not know is exactly how McPhee made his double plays.  Presumably, the classic 6-4-3 and 5-4-3 double plays of today’s game were less common in the 19th century, due to the lack of modern fielding gloves.  Also, in an era when home runs were rare and errors were frequent, teams ran and ran and ran, trying to put pressure on the other team’s defense.  I suspect that a lot more double plays in those days involved doubling off base runners after a fly ball or line drive was caught or of the stike-’em-out/throw-’em-out variety.

However, Bid accomplished his double plays, his double plays were just as valuable then as they are today.  McPhee led his league 11 times in this category over a 12 year period.  In comparison, Bill Mazeroski, who holds the single season record with 161 double plays set in 1966, led his league only eight times in double plays turned.

Bid’s election to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 2000 was almost certainly the result of the recent rise of sabermetrics and a bettter understanding of offensive performances and the value of defensive performances.

McPhee hit only .272 for this career, but he had power (his 189 triples is 11th all-time and his 53 career home runs was a significant number for a player who played his entire major league career in the 19th century), he drew a lot of walks, and he stole 568 bases in his career. As a result, McPhee was a terrific lead-off hitter, scoring more than 100 runs in ten different seasons and finishing his career with 1684 runs scored.

McPhee spent his entire career playing in a small market on teams that more often than not were out of contention (in McPhee’s 18 seasons, his teams won one pennant and finished 2nd or 3rd five other times), and it was easy for McPhee to be forgotten with the passage of time.  His 2000 election to the Hall of Fame did much to right that wrong.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburg Pirates, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals

One Comment on “Bid McPhee and Other Exceptional Defensive Performances: Part I”

  1. They called him “Biddy” because he was small, just 5’8″ and 150 pounds or so. But as a defensive player, he was a giant of his time. Considered by most to be the finest second baseman of the 19th century, his fielding stats can leave one breathless. McPhee (1859-1943) holds the record for lifetime putouts at second base, with 6,545. Eddie Collins and Nellie Fox are the only others with more than 6,000. For his career, he is fourth all-time in assists among second sackers. He is third lifetime in chances accepted per game. Only seven men in history have played more games at second. Among all the men who have played second base since, only Frankie Frisch topped McPhee’s record of 993 chances in a single season — and no one has come within 40 of the 529 putouts he recorded in 1886. He led the league in double plays 11 times, in putouts eight times, and in fielding average eight times. In the sophisticated new stat of “fielding runs,” McPhee is the fourth best defensive player — at any position — who ever played the game.

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