The Phillies have announced that fan voting is now open in the first step towards naming a 2015 honoree on the franchise Wall of Fame. Of all the names on the ballot, possibly the least well-known is also the most worthy: Fred Luderus.
Many Phils fans are probably asking themselves “Who?” when confronted with that statement. But for anyone with a sense of the history of this 132-year old team, the name should indeed be familiar.
Fred Luderus was the Philadelphia Phillies regular 1st baseman every season from 1911-1919, pretty much the entirety of the 2nd decade of the 20th century. He helped lead the team to its first-ever NL Pennant in 1915, and hit the first World Series homerun in franchise history that year. He has played more games (1,326) at 1st base than any player in franchise history.
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Luderus’ offensive numbers might seem low when compared with modern players, such as Ryan Howard, who is 2nd on the club all-time Games list at 1st base, or Pat Burrell, another Wall of Fame nominee this time around who played just 5 fewer career games with the Phils.
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 homerun 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’ homerun 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 4 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, a reasonable look at the regular starting 1st 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.Pat Burrell a likely favorite in Wall of Fame voting
In the current round of balloting, fans are asked to vote at the Phillies website, choosing their top three favorites from among a dozen candidates: Luderus, Burrell, 1920’s-30’s 3rd baseman Pinky Whitney, 1920’s-30’s catcher Jimmy Wilson, 1950 NL MVP Jim Konstanty, 1960’s outfielder Tony Gonzalez, late-60’s-early 80’s eras pitchers Rick Wise, Larry Christenson, Gene Garber, and Ron Reed, catcher/coach Mike Ryan, and 1993 NL Pennant-winning manager Jim Fregosi.
The team will accept votes through February 6th at 5pm. The top five vote-getters will then be sent on in a final ballot to a special Wall of Fame Selection Committee, who will make the final choice of this year’s honoree.
The excellent play provided to the Philadelphia Phillies franchise by Luderus has largely been lost to time. Certainly modern voters are more likely to instinctively vote for Pat ‘the Bat’, or maybe the popular ‘Macho Row’ coach Fregosi.
But the contributions of Fred Luderus, the player who manned 1st base more often than any other in that 132-year team history, and who was effective during an extremely difficult hitting era, deserve for him a plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame.