Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lost RBIs Of Ruth, Gehrig, Others Discovered

This is a guest post by Tom Ruane

Prior to the SABR convention, someone pointed out to us that our box score of the second game of the June 1, 1930, double-header between the Giants and the Braves showed the visiting Giants scoring 16 runs without a single RBI. Our box score reflects the official version of the game. According to both our play-by-play account and numerous newspaper box scores, the Giants should have had 14 RBIs.

I figured that there were probably several other games like this from 1920 to 1949. So I wrote a program to identify all the games where a team scored three runs or more without being credited with an RBI. My program found 71 games. Some of these games were not official errors. For example, on July 2, 1948, the Cubs scored five runs and all of these runs were scored as a result of a wild pitch, balk and errors.

And just so I won't being accused of completely burying the lead, the changes suggested below would have the following effect on the 1928 AL RBI leadership:


1 Babe Ruth 142
1 Lou Gehrig 142
3 Bob Meusel 113
4 Heinie Manush 108


1 Babe Ruth 144
2 Lou Gehrig 143
3 Bob Meusel 116
4 Harry Heilmann 109
4 Heinie Manush 109
4 Al Simmons 109

But more on this later.

Here are the games I found that are (or might be) official errors along with the RBIs I think are missing. The number before the date is the number of runs scored by the team in the game.

x - noticed when fixing the other team's RBIs
* - only source was newspaper box score
+ - missing a detailed account of the game

Among other things, these updates could have the following effect:

1920 - George Sisler moves from a tie into 2nd place all by himself. Jacobson drops into 3rd place.
1922 - Tillie Walker's added RBI gives him an even 100 for the year.
1924 - Goose Goslin's league-leading total becomes 130. Harry Heilmann moves ahead of Hauser into 4th place with 117.
1926 - George Burns moves from a tie into 2nd place all by himself. Lazzeri drops into 3rd place.
1927 - Paul Waner's league-leading total becomes 132.
1928 - As mentioned above, Babe Ruth moves from a tie for the league leadership into first place with 144 RBIs. Lou Gehrig's total increases to 143 RBIs but he still drops into second place. Al Simmons and Harry Heilmann move into a fourth-place tie with Heinie Manush with 109 RBIs. All three have their totals increase, but Simmons and Heilmann's increase by two and Manush's only increases by one.

I said "could" have the following effect because this is by no means the last word on RBIs for this period. I suspect there are several hundred remaining errors in the RBI data from this period and expect these numbers to continue to change as more research is done in this area.

To highlight this last point, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at Gehrig and Ruth's RBI totals for 1928. Since this is the only proposed change that might affect a league leader, I went and looked at all of their games that season. Here's what I found.

4-18: Ruth +2 and Gehrig +1. Mentioned above - no RBIs credited to team.
5-10: Gehrig -1. It looks like his SH was put in the RBI column of the dailies.
5-26: Ruth +2. He was not given credit for his RBIs on a ground-out and sacrifice fly.
5-28: Ruth +1. He was not given credit for RBI on bases-loaded walk.
6-28: Gehrig +1 and Ruth -1. Ruth given RBI on Gehrig's sacrifice fly.
8-6: Gehrig +1. He was not given credit for RBI on force-out at second with the bases loaded. The attempt to double-up Gehrig resulted in a throw to an unoccupied base. Two runs scored on the play, but I think Gehrig should have given one RBI.
8-7: Gehrig +1 and Ruth -1. Ruth given credit for one of Gehrig's RBIs in the first inning.
9-9: Gehrig +1. Two errors here. First of all, two RBIs were put in the strikeout column of the dailies. And assuming that the intent was to give him two RBIs in the game, that means he was incorrectly credited with an RBI when he tripled and scored on an error. Either way, Gehrig was credited with no official RBIs and should have had one.
9-16: Gehrig +1. no RBI credited on solo home run.
9-18: newspaper box scores do not credit Gehrig with an RBI in the game, but I can not find a complete enough account of the scoring to make a case for a change.

So what is the net effect of all these changes. Well, they result in 3 additional RBIs for Ruth and 5 for Gehrig. So instead of having Ruth take sole ownership of the RBI title (144-143), it should be Gehrig in the top spot by 147-145. And even if further research supports removing his RBI on 9-18, he would still own the title outright.

One final note on Gehrig's RBI totals: if we adjust his 1928 figure from 142 to 147, that would also change his career mark from 1995 to an even 2000. But there is no reason to think that his totals from other years won't change as well. As a matter of fact, incomplete research from other seasons have him with one less RBI than officially credited in 1926, 1929 and 1938 (giving him an adjusted total of 1997), and I'd be very surprised if there weren't several more changes yet to come.

Finally, a request for help. If anyone has access to a Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cleveland or Detroit library, I would love to have copies of the local game stories for the eight games above marked with a "+". They are:

1923-4-23 BOS @ PHA
1923-8-1(2) SLA @ PHA
1924-6-4 PHA @ CLE
1924-6-29 SLA @ CHA
1926-4-20 SLA @ DET
1926-6-18 PHA @ DET
1926-7-22 SLA @ BOS
1926-8-6 PIT @ BSN

Tom Ruane, a computer programmer in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is a member of Retrosheet's board of directors. He has published articles in "The Baseball Research Journal" and "By The Numbers." He won SABR's highest honor, the Bob Davids Award, in 2009.

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