Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat” and Ted Williams, “The Splendid Splinter,” lead the all-time list in many offensive categories. Names such as Mantle, Mays, Musial, and Aaron enter into conversation when Ruth and Williams are mentioned. A man you’ve probably never heard compared to Ruth and Williams is Max “Camera Eye” Bishop. In fact, he may very well be a man you’ve never heard of at all.
Max Bishop was a second baseman in the American League from 1924-35. He played his first ten seasons with the then Philadelphia A’s and his last two with the Boston Red Sox. Hitting 41 lifetime home runs and with only a .271 lifetime average, it almost seems absurd he could be mentioned in the same breath as any of the offensive greats, but the truth is he compares quite favorably.
When it comes to walk percentage for a career, (just think of how a batting average is computed but use walks instead of hits) Max Bishop’s .204 is higher than Babe Ruth’s and just slightly lower than Ted Williams’ .207. An aberration? Far from it.
Looking at the nine seasons in which Bishop played more than 100 games (1925-33), he failed to record 100 walks only twice and even then did not fall very short with 87 and 97. The year he recorded the 97 walks, 1928, was the only season in which he batted over .300 (.316) and the following year the only season in the nine year stretch he failed to achieve an on-base percentage of .400 or more (.398).
Due to his on-base percentage constantly hovering around .400, A’s manager Connie Mack batted Bishop in the leadoff spot. Mack knew Bishop was no threat, but he also knew exactly what he was. He was pressure.
Batting after Bishop in the A’s lineup were the likes of Mickey Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons, all very big threats. It was difficult enough for opposing pitchers to face any of the three with the bases empty, let alone with a man on. Max Bishop was that man and he set the table often, adding worry to opposing pitchers because they knew that any mistake to one of the big three not only meant one, but at least two runs against. The added pressure only made the big three more effective and in four straight seasons (1928-31) Bishop scored 100 runs or more.
Knowing that Bishop was not passed intentionally or pitched around because he was a home run threat like Ruth (714 home runs) and Williams (521 home runs), his ability to reach first base without swinging becomes even more uncanny. He was also not feared because of his ability to hit doubles and triples, as evidenced by his paltry .366 lifetime slugging average, a far cry from Ruth’s .690 and Williams .634.
Though Bishop may have walked alone to first, he does not walk alone in history. He is tied with Joe Jackson for 16th on the all time on-base percentage list with .423, (below him are Mantle, Musial and DiMaggio). Each of the fifteen players above him in this category had a lifetime average well over .300 (11 averaging .330 or more) and/or over 500 home runs. With 1,153 walks he is tied with Toby Harrah (who recorded almost 3,000 more at bats than Bishop) for 56th place on the all time list for bases on balls.
Bishop still holds the major league record for walks during a double header (18 innings) with 8 (which he did twice) and twice he walked 5 times in one game. Six times in his career he collected more walks than hits and proved to be more than just a “camera eye”, leading the American League in fielding for a second baseman four times.
In my eyes, Bishop should have walked into the Hall of Fame. I cannot tell you why he’s not in it, nor can I tell you how far he traveled on foot during his lifetime. But one thing is certain; because of a “Camera Eye” he walked almost two miles in a major league uniform, taking it 90 feet at a time. If nothing less, Bishop has proven one thing: you can walk tall and carry a big stick… but you don’t have to swing it to make a difference.