Jesse Joseph Haines

By Walt Baranger

Pop Haines has no more business being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame than does Pop Warner.

Jesse 'Pop' Haines

Haines was an above-average Cardinals knuckleballer from 1920 to 1937, neither perennial standout nor unreliable loser. He was the kind of steady pitcher that every team can use. Still, the Hall of Fame gloss apparently rubbed off of his more famous teammates, who included Leo Durocher, Joe Medwick, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby and Dizzy Dean.

In 18 full seasons, Haines won just 210 games with an earned run average of 3.64 — which during his years averaged 3.93 for the National League. That’s fewer than 12 victories per year; by comparison, Milt Pappas averaged 12.3 victories per year with a 3.40 earned run average.

In 1934 he played with the famous Gashouse Gang but pitched less than one inning in the World Series.

Pop’s best year was 1927, when he was 24-10 with six shutouts and an earned run average of 2.72. He pitched more complete games than anyone else in the National League and was eighth in voting for the Most Valuable Player award. The accomplishment came to nothing because Pittsburgh edged the Cardinals for the World Series berth, and the famous Murderer’s Row 1927 Yankees commanded the attention of fans everywhere.

Had Haines kept his 1927 numbers going for a decade or so, he’d be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But, sadly, he didn’t.

He won 20 games just three times in his career, but eight times he won fewer than 10 games. In 1921, his earned run average was a dreadful 5.71. Except in 1927, he never figured into MVP voting.

He threw a lot of wild pitches and hit a lot of batters, as might be expected of a knuckleballer. He barely threw more strikeouts than walks, and won just 57% of his career decisions. Although four All-Star games were held during his career, he appeared in none.

Haines, it seems, had a typical journeyman career of ups and downs.

True, his winning percentage was above .700 four times and his earned run average in World Series play was an excellent 1.67. But he only pitched a total of 32 World Series innings over four years and struck out a grand total of 12 batters while walking 16.

In 1924, he threw a no-hitter against the Boston Braves. He also lost 19 games that year (he won only eight) and his earned run average was a very high 4.41.

He was an average fielder for a pitcher, and his lifetime batting average was also typical for a pitcher, .186.

Haines’ bronze Hall of Fame plaque bears such boilerplate phrases as “durable” and the web site calls him a “tough competitor,” a hint that the Hall had (as still has) trouble finding solid accomplishments to highlight his career. Nothing stands out to mark Haines as a candidate for Hall of Fame membership, so we are left with one conclusion:

Pop Haines was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1970 because a bunch of Cardinals stars and other cronies were on the veterans committee. Pop Haines, who was only once in his career considered a viable candidate for the Most Valuable Player award, is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for eternity. Go figure.

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