David “Davy” Force: The Gold Glove
Force was born in New York City on July 27th, 1849, and grew up playing sandlot baseball. He grew to only 5′ 4″ tall, but was a good athlete–well-coordinated, like a gymnast, and was stronger than he appeared. He also was blessed with a prerequisite for a middle infielder–wonderfully soft hands. He was very quick on his feet, and had outstanding range. He had a quick release when he threw, and was reliably accurate.
Also, while not a great hitter, he became a superb bunter. Many believe that he was the first player to develop bunting as an offensive weapon–that is, bunting for base hits. He also ran the bases well.
He was so good at fielding the ball cleanly, other coaches had their players copy his footwork–how he approached the ball–and how he always seemed to be facing the ball when he fielded it. It seemed that his nose was always “on the ball” when gathering it up.
Force started playing semi-pro ball at age 17 in 1867, and then signed to play professional ball in 1871, with the Washington Olympics, when the National Association was formed. Technically, his “pro career” was 15 years long, though the difference between “semi-pro” and “pro” was then somewhat blurred, thus, the reference to his “19 year” career.
None of Force’s teams ever won a pennant, but from 1879 through 1885 he played on one of the best teams in the National League (the National League was formed in 1876), the Buffalo Bisons. Their team had star pitcher James “Pud” Galvin, infielders Hardy Richardson and Deacon White, plus slugging first baseman Dan Brouthers. Also, Blondie Purcell, Jim O’Rourke and Joe Hornung patrolled the outfield. The Bisons were one of the top teams during their era–they just needed more pitching.
Force only batted .249 for his career, but had a good on-base percentage. He obtained 1,060 hits, and scored 653 runs. And, he was, by consensus, the best glove man at his position during his era.
Force is also remembered for what is still called “The Force Case”–his contract dispute during the winter of 1874-5, when he signed with both Chicago and Philadelphia. He shouldn’t have done it, but when he signed with Chicago, he became aware that he was, like other players, underpaid. So, like many other players of his era, he signed with another team, the Philadelphia franchise, for more money. (Remember, there would be no “Reserve Clause”, instituted by owners, until 1881.) This created a firestorm of disputes, and it was initially ruled that Force would play for Chicago–the team whose contract he had signed first. Then, John Sporing, the Philadelphia managing partner, convened a subsequent meeting of owners and appointed a new “compensation committee” who then decided that Force should play with Philadelphia, which he did.
This turn of events so angered the Chicago owners that they started a groundswell of opposition against the National Association. Ultimately, “The Force Case”, and other financial and contractual problems, led to the formation of the National League in 1876, effectively terminating the National Association.
Davy Force was always around the top of on-base rankings. He was also at the top of what we now call WAR (Wins Against Replacement) stats (on defense). He also led in assists for 2 seasons, as well as in putouts for short stops for 3 seasons. And, he led for 2 years each in putouts for both third basemen and second basemen. Force led in fielding percentage for 10 seasons: 2 years each at second base and third base–and an amazing 6 years at short stop! On many lists, Force is one of the top 10 defensive short stops of all time.
Force retired following the 1886 season, when he was 37 years old. He then worked at Otis Elevator for 25 years. He and his wife Louisa lived a comfortable life in Englewood, N. J. He died there on June 21st, 1918, at age 68.
Davy Force, The “Gold Glove” of the 19th century!