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Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy

Posted by Mike Lynch on July 29, 2014

As Derek Jeter continues his climb up baseball's all-time hits list, we have received several inquiries about Honus Wagner's career hit total. We list 3,420, while MLB lists him with 3,430 career hits. While the similarity of the numbers may imply a simple typo, it turns out that the reasons for the one-digit difference are not simple at all.

For an explanation of the history of this deviation, we spoke with Pete Palmer (the source for many of the statistics appearing on this site). Palmer explained that the 1969 Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia was the genesis of the difference. At the time, official NL statistics only went back to 1903. The encyclopedia created new statistics for years prior to that and the changes were approved by an MLB committee set up to rule on various statistics for inclusion in the encyclopedia. However, the Elias Sports Bureau, which is the official statistician for Major League Baseball, never accepted the committee ruling, which leads to some differing numbers between what you see on Baseball-Reference and what you see in official MLB records. Elias, instead, has always used data from the old Spalding Guides.

Pete Palmer (and by extension Baseball-Reference) has preferred to use the Macmillan data*, because daily figures exist to back the numbers up, which allows for the statistics to be proofed for greater accuracy. Here is a year-by-year look at the difference between our totals and the Spalding totals. These are all from Wagner's pre-1903 seasons (Baseball-Reference total listed first):

  • 1897: 81, 83
  • 1898: 176, 180
  • 1899: 196, 197
  • 1900: 201, 201
  • 1901: 194, 196
  • 1902: 176, 177

Another discrepancy that some of you may notice soon is that Baseball-Reference has Cap Anson with 3,435 career hits, while MLB has him with 3,011. While many discrepancies exist with that data, the bulk of the difference is the fact that we count Anson's 423 hits in the National Association, which we believe was clearly a major league.

TL;DR version: Our hit total for Honus Wagner is not a typo. We recognize it does not align with the official total, but we believe it is the most accurate number.

For further reading on some of the issues with official totals in baseball statistics, please read this excellent 2011 post by Retrosheet's Dave Smith.

*The Macmillan data excluded a few games that were protested and replayed in the 1890s. These statistics were included in the NL stats of the day (save for the wins and losses) and Palmer has added these statistics back into the Macmillan data to reflect this.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 at 11:35 am and is filed under Announcement, Baseball-Reference.com, Data, History, Leaders, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

37 Responses to “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy”

  1. In Palmer we trust!

  2. […] list is Honus Wagner, who is currently in sixth place with 3,430, according to MLB.com. There is a bit of a discrepancy in the record-keeping, as Baseball-Reference.com lists Wagner with 3,420 career hits, which would […]

  3. […] list is Honus Wagner, who is currently in sixth place with 3,430, according to MLB.com. There is a bit of a discrepancy in the record-keeping, as Baseball-Reference.com lists Wagner with 3,420 career hits, which would […]

  4. Stentorian Says:

    Two points on this.

    First, I am compelled to defer to the researchers who dug deepest. If the daily figures have been examined and adjustments made for the replayed games originally omitted by the MacMillan encyclopedia, I have greater confidence in the 3420 number as being the most accurate for Honus' hits total.

    Second, it strikes me as incredibly arrogant of major league baseball or whatever commission they established to conclude that the National Association was not a major league. The NA not only launched the career of Anson but also of George Wright, Deacon White, A.G. Spalding, and Orator Jim O'Rourke, just to name some Hall of Famers, and lasted for five seasons. It's time for that error to be corrected and for NA stats to be included with those of the other major leagues, which include, by the way, the short lived Federal League and the even shorter lived Players League.

    Congrats to Jeter and hoping for greater media coverage of Honus' more accurate hits total just to get him some love.

  5. It seems amazing that Official Baseballdom would ignore the better evidence. If you can prove 3420, then that is what should be used.

  6. Bob lohmann Says:

    Well that's baseball Susan!

  7. Here's more background on the Anson discrepancy:

    http://tinyurl.com/bmlkams

  8. Just one question....

    Could the 1899 discrepancy be the result of the Zeke Wrigley affair? In 1899 Mr Wrigley was under contract with the Giants, but played 15 games for the Dodgers. I remember reading once that some accounts stripped all games he played from official tallies.

  9. Personally, I don't care if Wagner has 3,420 or 3,430 hits, or if Anson is given the higher figure because Jeter is going to surpass both in the near future(unless he has a season-ending injury). What is more interesting to contemplate: What if Derek had not lost almost all of last seAson to injury? Would he have passed both Speaker and Musial before retirement? I, for one, believe so. Hooray for baseball stats and hooray for Derek Jeter!

  10. Ty Cobb's hit total is also different
    BR has it as 4189
    MLB 4191

  11. chris rugaard Says:

    What about Ty Cobb's career batting average .366 or .367?

    HOF plaque says .367

  12. Supposedly, one of Cobb's games was counted twice in 1910 (I think). Knowing how much Cobb was hated, I find it surprising that the error (if true) would have been allowed to stand for so long. Surely Cobb had enough enemies that one would have reviewed the totals to ensure accuracy. All it takes is one to do he necessary digging.

  13. MLB has Cobb hitting .367 (4,191/11,429)
    BR has him at .366 (4,189/11,434)

  14. […] double lifted him past Honus Wagner to #2 in total bases by a career shortstop (per B-R). Derek’s had more at-bats than Honus in a much friendlier context, but still – number […]

  15. I can't believe all you people worried about a hit or a point regarding players who played over a hundred years ago. You have a modern-day wonder of the baseball world in the person of Derek Jeter who is about to move up to number 6 on the hits list, and you're still blogging about Honus Wagner? Give me a break! Even the hated Red Sox tip their hats to Jeter! Wake up and smell the peanuts and Cracker Jack!

  16. Harvey:

    How much Jeter worship is enough? How much can we extol his total awesomeness? Imagine discussing Wagner and not Jeter in a Wagner thread. What are we thinking?

  17. Stentorian Says:

    Happy to see Honus get some attention due to Jeter's achievement. Younger fans need to know about Wagner's career and temperament. When his statue was erected in Pittsburgh he insisted that kids be depicted on the base rather than his career stats. In the higher echelons of baseball immortality Wagner, like Jeter, was a terrific role model in addition to a uniquely gifted player and champion. I hope Jeter has some kind words for him when the media recognizes that Wagner's hits total is surpassed, although I recognize that Jeter has already surpassed it with 3421.

  18. Eddie Marzigliano Says:

    The National Ass. was not Major League baseball. The Major Leagues started in 1876. 1871-1875 was NOT major league baseball, no matter how important it was to the start of the ML.

  19. I am much more interested in Honus Wagner or Ty Cobb than I am in Jeter.

  20. Eddie Marzigliano Says:

    Jeter has already passed Wagner in hits for a shortstop. Only about 2200 or 2300 of Wagner's hits came while he played the shortstop position.

  21. […] “http://www.sports-reference.com/blog/2014/07/explaining-the-honus-wagner-career-hits-discrepa… This entry was tagged Career, Discrepancy, Explaining, hits, Honus, Wagner. Bookmark the […]

  22. dan shepard Says:

    thank you for excellent explanation for the discrepancies about the hit totals for cap anson and honus wagner. i didn't read it before composing a note to wikipedia. fortunately i didn't send that note to wiki.

  23. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy“, Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  24. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy“, Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  25. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy“, Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  26. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy,” Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  27. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy,” Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  28. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy,” Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  29. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy,” Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  30. […] a post on Sports Reference entitled “Explaining the Honus Wagner Career Hits Discrepancy,” Baseball Reference’s Mike Lynch explains that their number for Wagner’s career […]

  31. Not sure how BBRef can assert that it knows MLB's statistics better than MLB does. The official totals should be what MLB says they are, full stop.

  32. It's not about who's right or wrong, it's about getting the data correct.
    If there is a discrepancy in any of the numbers. Find out why and fix it. Hack Wilson was able to get a RBI 60+ years after the 1930 season was over because someone took the time to find the error.

  33. M. Scott Eiland Says:

    Careful, if you use that lower figure Jerome Holtzman will have a (posthumous) cow.

  34. […] back that far. Wagner’s 10 “extra” hits stem from his first six seasons. Via Mike Lynch of Sports-Reference.com, here are the seasons in question, with the Baseball-Referece total listed […]

  35. […] behind that far. Wagner’s 10 “extra” hits branch from his initial 6 seasons. Via Mike Lynch of Sports-Reference.com, here are a seasons in question, with a Baseball-Referece sum listed before […]

  36. […] reason for the discrepancy – as documented in this blog from Baseball-Reference.com – is the status of the National Association, the league Anson spent his first five years playing […]

  37. […] reason for the discrepancy – as documented in this blog from Baseball-Reference.com – is the status of the National Association, the league Anson spent his first five years playing […]

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