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Jim Thorpe was Not a Good Baseball Player

[ 35 ] August 6, 2012 |


He turned professional, big-time, in 1913, signing with the New York Giants baseball team, the Yankees of their day. After a rocky few years playing the one sport that did not come easy to him, by 1919 he was hitting as well as Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson.

Ty Cobb 1919 oWAR (offensive wins above replacement): 5.3
Joe Jackson 1919 oWAR: 5.6
Jim Thorpe 1919 oWAR: 1.0

Even relying on basic stats Thorpe comes us short; he hit an empty .327 in 1919. Jackson hit .351 and Cobb hit .384, both with power and walks. For his career, Thorpe was .4 wins below replacement. Jim Thorpe was indeed a fabulous, extraordinary athlete, and it’s not likely that many Olympic decathletes could turn in a baseball career that came anywhere near replacement level. This is rather a different thing than suggesting that Jim Thorpe was a good baseball player. FWIW, both Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were considerably better baseball players than Thorpe.


Comments (35)

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  1. Robert,

    Can we get “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site.” on the rotating mast head?

  2. tucker says:

    Hagiography is well, just that.

  3. Hogan says:

    But it’s a neat little town. Highly recommended for a long weekend. Be sure to check out the jail where the Molly Maguires were hanged.

  4. c u n s gulag says:

    For a great Olympian and football player, Thorpe wasn’t exactly horrible as a baseball player. He was adequate, to average.

    But he could throw better than Carl Lewis.
    Probably sang better, too.

  5. CJColucci says:

    Decathletes are the Joe Morgans of track and field, with no particularly eye-popping individual statistics but combined greatness.
    I wonder what a decathlete’s score would be if he equaled the world record in each event.

    • Bill Murray says:

      I wonder what a decathlete’s score would be if he equaled the world record in each event.

      well, if I got the world records correct and correctly scored when the record is between times/distances, I get 12,544. Ashton Eaton’s world record is 9039. and then i found wikipedia had already done this —

    • Bill Murray says:

      Decathletes are the Joe Morgans of track and field, with no particularly eye-popping individual statistics but combined greatness.

      Ashton Eaton’s long jump in the decathalon at the Olympic trials would have qualified him for the US Olympic long jump team and a similar jump would have won the silver in London

  6. JMG says:

    He was a better baseball player than Michael Jordan.

  7. New York Giants baseball team, the Yankees of their day

    Knives are the forks of spoons.

  8. Tony says:

    Hitting the curveball is a unique skill. Even great athletes can’t necessarily do it. (Yeah, Jordan. Talk about hubris.) The fact that he did as well as he did in the majors, basically just on raw coordination, is pretty good.

    Conversely, Bo, in his prime, might have done alright in the decathlon, but Deion would have died a thousand screaming deaths in it.

    You move Thorpe to today, with modern diet, training & coaching, and he wins all the things.

    • Bill Murray says:

      I think if you took Deion and Bo you could get one good decathlete. I don’t see Bo being great at the Pole Vault and the 1500 and probably the hurdles, but I think Deion could do those assuming he had lots of training

    • mpowell says:

      What do you think people use to hit a curveball besides hand-eye coordination? There’s no special unique curveball hitting skill. It’s just a particular kind of highly trained hand-eye coordination, probably not all that different in nature from hitting a golfball or a tennis ball where you see plenty of skill overlap, just not at the professional level.

    • gil.batzri says:

      At McAdory High School in Alabama, Bo showed his unbelievable athletic ability in three sports—football, baseball, and track and field. In track, he won two state decathlon championships. In baseball, he slammed 20 home runs in 25 games as a senior. In football, he rushed for for 1,173 yards on 108 carries (10.9 yards per carry) with 17 touchdowns.

      I think he would have done fine at decathalon on an olympic level, had he chosen to. Based on his performance in the other two sports he continued to play.

  9. Bill Murray says:

    I’d love to be pro replacement level in my third best sport

  10. Barry Freed says:

    Jeez, Scott just finished pissing all over Gore Vidal’s grave and now this. What’s next LG&M, “Your mother really didn’t love you”?

  11. Halloween Jack says:

    Daily Beast/Newsweek get a little fast and loose with the facts? Unpossible!

  12. Thlayli says:

    “McGraw wasn’t sure Thorpe could play baseball, but he was very sure that people would pay to find out.”

    Joe Durso, The Days of Mr. McGraw

  13. MikeSchilling says:

    OK, but by 1930 Thorpe was every bit as valuable as Cobb and Jackson put together.

  14. Jim Lynch says:

    I saw NFL Hall of Famer Sanders homer into the right field stands against the San Francisco (Candlestick) Giants. Don’t remember the pitcher. I was sitting 3rd base/infield lower reserved. It was a curving rope of a shot, but from my vantage point I knew immediately it would stay fair. .7 seconds after he hit it, and I knew it where it was bound to land. .9 seconds later, so did the folks in the bleachers.

  15. elbrucce says:

    what is this, the doris kearns goodwin channel? ~100 year old baseball statistics. get a life.

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