The Curious Hall of Fame Case of Roger Bresnahan

Debates over the Hall of Fame worthiness of players is nothing new in the world of baseball. Case in point: Roger Bresnahan.

There is a lot of controversy around what players get selected to the Hall of Fame each year. There are barstool debates all over the country around the third week of January when results are announced. We had no short of it this year with the selections of Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Both players have been tied to steroid use in their careers.

Should these players get in? Should they be banned for life? There simply is no right answer. The Hall of Fame voting is heavily scrutinized and will continue to be for years to come. However, there is one example that baseball fans everywhere can certainly agree on. The example is that of one Roger Bresnahan.

What? You’ve never heard of Roger Bresnahan? And you call yourself a baseball fan? No worries, most people not only have never heard of “The Duke of Tralee” but they certainly had no idea that his plaque sits in the Hall in Cooperstown. Here is a quick history lesson if the topic of worst Hall of Famers ever comes up in a ballpark, man cave or saloon near you.

By all accounts Bresnahan is the most undeserving member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played from 1897-1915 for six different teams including the Chicago Orphans in 1900. Bresnahan originally began his career as a pitcher but eventually transitioned to an outfielder and ultimately as an everyday catcher.

Statistically, Bresnahan’s numbers are those that leave most people scratching their heads in disbelief. He had a lifetime batting average of .279. He also had career totals of 26 home runs and 530 RBI. You might be thinking, “Well, he must have had a ton of steals or something.” You would be wrong, because Bresnahan only stole 216 bases. Not bad but certainly not Hall-worthy. He only accumulated 1,252 hits, 682 runs scored and a modest .386 lifetime on-base percentage. Bresnahan never led the league in any offensive category other than walks in 1908. He did win a World Series with the Giants in 1905.

Bresnahan was also a big league manager. He managed the Cardinals from 1909-1912 and the Chicago Cubs in 1915. Again, he did nothing as a manager that would justify his Hall entry either. He was a mediocre manager at best, compiling a lifetime .482 winning percentage.

Bresnahan does have some noteworthy contributions to the game of baseball, however. He is credited as the first catcher to wear protective shin guards during a game in 1907. Bresnahan is also credited with developing the first batting helmet. He took a pitch off the head that left him in the hospital for 10 days. During the time in the hospital he drew up the design for a plastic batting helmet. From a performance standpoint he does hold one record that may never be broken. He is the only catcher to hit an inside-the-park home run twice in one game while batting leadoff.

If you are still saying to yourself that even though those contributions are pretty cool, they do not warrant a Hall of Fame vote, then you would be right. Bresnahan received 47 votes from the 226 voters in 1935. Through 1942 he never received more than 62 votes.

Bresnahan died in December of 1944. A month later, votes were cast again. This time he received 133 votes. This was still short of the required 75 percent. However, the permanent committee noticed the surge in votes and decided to go ahead and elect Bresnahan in April of that year. Yes, he was elected after not being elected. Fans will always disagree on voting results. However, it’s nice to know that there was at least one time in history when the voters got it right, then got it wrong and we can all agree on that.

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