Luderus was Phillies starting first baseman during the 1910’s
The Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame is a wonderful tradition of honoring the great individuals who have made Phillies baseball more enjoyable for fans of the team over its 133-season existence.
Beginning with Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts in 1978, the Phillies have honored one player, coach, or other individual each season with a place on the Wall with a plaque, similar to those received by inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The location for display of these plaques was originally a section of wall on the inner concourses at Veteran’s Stadium. The construction of Citizens Bank Park included a more distinctive place, an actual specially built Wall of Fame, which can be found just off Ashburn Alley in the center field concourse.
In its current format, the Phillies allow fans to vote online from a group of a dozen candidates, specially selected for their service to the team. These nominees must have spent at least four years with the team and be retired at least three years. Consideration is given by the team for longevity, ability, character, statistics, special achievements, and contributions to the Phillies and baseball.
Fans vote from that list of a dozen candidates for their top three choices. The results of that fan voting are then sent on to a special panel, which chooses the actual final Wall of Fame honoree. That fan voting ends at 5pm on Monday, March 7th this season at the Phillies website.
Last year, the Phillies honored Pat Burrell with that place on the Wall of Fame. While “Pat the Bat” is certainly a deserving honoree, he was not my selection for that honor at this time. I firmly believe that, while he would have made it eventually and deservedly, it was too soon to be honoring a player who recently retired when a number of deserving individuals have waited far longer.
Leading that list remains Fred Luderus, who I championed last January in the run-up to the fan voting. Once again here in 2016, I am calling on all fans to vote Luderus among their final three nominees, and for the Phillies to honor Luderus with a well-earned place on the Wall of Fame.
Since no Phillies fan currently alive is likely to have ever seen Luderus play, and most fans of the team are still likely to ask “Who?” when confronted with his name, a refresher of his qualifications.
Luderus was the Phils’ starting first baseman for nearly the entirety of the second decade of the 20th century. From 1911-19, Luderus played in 1,326 games at the position, a record that stood for nearly a century until broken just last season by Ryan Howard. He hit in the middle of the very first Phillies team to ever win a National League pennant in 1915 and hit the first home run in the franchise’ World Series history during that postseason.
If you look up Luderus’ statistics and are unimpressed at first glance, you would be excused for thinking that his nomination might be overrated. However, I pointed out a year ago the following factors that mitigate those stats:
But it must be remembered that Luderus had a significant handicap, playing his entire career during baseball’s “dead ball era” in the early 20th century. During these years, the balls themselves were actually softer, and were often used nearly until the laces fell off.
Another factor during this period working against hitters like Luderus was that pitchers could “doctor” the ball. The spitball, for instance, was legal during the entirety of his career, not outlawed until 1921, a year after he retired.
Unlike today when a number of modern ballparks have generous hitting dimensions, in those days many ballparks were nightmares for hitters with 500+ foot deep fences. Even the rules were against home run hitters. Prior to Luderus’ last season of 1920, balls hit over the fence in fair territory, but landing in foul, were ruled foul balls.
Because of these factors, Luderus’ home run totals are dwarfed by Howard and Burrell, and his rbi totals significantly behind theirs. But he actually has more doubles than Howard, and his total is just four behind Burrell’s on the Phillies list.
Luderus’ career batting average of .270 is better than both players, and his 55 career Phillies stolen bases dwarfs their career Phillies totals combined.
In fact, any reasonable look at the regular starting first basemen during the 1910’s shows that only Jake Daubert, who played for the National League’s Brooklyn Spiders during the majority of the decade, was more productive at the position in that decade than Luderus was for the Phillies.
As pointed out in his biography at SABR, the man known as “Ludy” to scribes, fans, and his peers “reached double digits in home runs each season from 1911 to 1914. This was no small feat in those dead-ball days. Joe Dittmar, who wrote the SABR bio, goes on to point out that
“the modest Ludy became known for his dependability after his home-run hitting dropped off. From 1916 to 1919 he played in 533 consecutive games, considered “the greatest streak of continuous play by a modern major leaguer.””
There are a number of worthy nominees on that ballot. The likelihood is that the recency factor once again wins out, and that someone such as Thome or Fregosi has a plaque hung in the Wall of Fame this coming summer. Both men are certainly deserving.
But once again, as with Burrell a year ago, there are a few men who deserve that place on the Wall before those two nominees. At the top of that list, again, is Luderus. He is likely to once again have his nomination lost to time. But it is absolutely important to keep his name in the narrative until finally honored.
Go to the Phillies website if you read this before the voting closes and give Luderus one of your three nomination votes. And if you happen to read this after the voting closes, keep his name in your memory banks for future elections.
Also, perhaps consider treating yourself to some further research on baseball in that dead-ball era, as well as the early days of the Phillies franchise. It may help you appreciate much more the accomplishments of players such as Luderus when compared to those in the modern game.