This was the year of the greatest pennant races of all time. Cait Murphy's excellent book of the same name called it "Crazy '08," and thus it was. The Cubs won their third pennant in a row, beating New York and Pittsburgh by a single game, on the margin of the fabled "Merkle's Boner." Philadelphia was a solid fourth, followed by Cincinnati and Boston, while Brooklyn and St. Louis were both 100-game losers.
Honus Wagner was the statistical leader, in one of the most incredible seasons ever seen. Remember when you look at his numbers that an average NL team of this year scored 3.33 runs per game. Wagner batted .354, ahead of Mike Donlin's .334 and Larry Doyle's .308 in third place. Wagner led in on-base (.415 to Johnny Evers' .408), slugging (.542 to Donlin's .452), and OPS (957 to Donlin's 816). Wagner was second in runs scored, first in hits, first in doubles, triples, and total bases, first in RBI and in stolen bases. Fred Tenney edged him by one in runs scored. Tim Jordan hit two more homers. Wagner's numbers might have been even better if he hadn't missed the first four games because he was holding out. Rarely has a player so dominated a league.
As Wagner was to the hitting, Christy Mathewson was to the pitchers. Mathewson won 37 games, followed by Mordecai Brown at 29. Mathewson had a 1.43 ERA, followed by Brown's 1.47. Mathewson struck out 259 batters, followed by Nap Rucker's 199. Mathewson led with 34 complete games, 11 shutouts, fewest walks per nine innings, and fewest baserunners per nine innings. It was an amazing performance.
Win Shares leaders, players: Honus Wagner (Pittsburgh) 59, Joe Tinker (Chicago) and Hans Lobert (Cincinnati) 32, Mike Donlin (New York) and Tommy Leach (Pittsburgh) 31, Johnny Evers (Chicago) and Fred Clarke (Pittsburgh) 28, Roger Bresnahan (New York) 27, Sherry Magee (Philadelphia) 26, Al Bridwell and Art Devlin (New York) 24.
Pitchers; Christy Mathewson (New York) 39, Three Finger Brown (Chicago) 34, George McQuillan (St. Louis) 33, Ed Reulbach (Chicago) 27, Hooks Wiltse (New York) 25, Nap Rucker and Kaiser Wilhelm (Brooklyn) 23, Bob Ewing (Cincinnati), Nick Maddox and Vic Willis (Pittsburgh) 20.
WARP3 leaders; Wagner 13.8, Donlin 7.5 (last good year), Leach 7.1, Tinker 6.7, Bresnahan 5.9 (last big year), Johnny Kling (Chicago) 5.8, Devlin 5.7, Clarke 5.4, Magee and Evers 5.2, Lobert 4.7. Pitchers, Mathewson 12.2 (best year), Brown 8.9, McQuillan 8.0 (best year), Wiltse 6.4 (best year), Reulbach 5.3 (best year), Rucker and Wilhelm (only good year) 4.9, Bugs Raymond (St. Louis) 4.8.
WAR, position players: Wagner 12.9, Tinker 8.3, Donlin 7.6, Evers 6.7, Bresnahan 6.4, Lobert 6.3, Magee 6.1, Leach 6.0, Clarke and Bridwell 5.7.
WAR, pitchers: Mathewson 10.1, McQuillan 8.2, Brown 7.8, Wiltse 5.6, Rucker 5.0, Reulbach 4.8, Wilhelm 3.8, Raymond 3.5, Coakley and Willis 3.4.
Top player: Honus Wagner with one of the all-time great years. Led in average, on-base, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, steals, and had a 205 OPS+ compared to second-place Mike Donlin's 155. #2 spot on my ballot to Joe Tinker, #3 to Donlin, Johnny Evers 4th, and Roger Bresnahan 5th.
Top pitcher: Christy Mathewson was magnificent, winning the pitcher's triple crown leading in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Mordecai Brown was a distinguished second. McQuillan is 3rd, Wiltse 4th and Reulbach 5th.
Top rookie: Buck Herzog batted .300 in 64 games for New York. Chief Wilson, the single-season triples record holder, batted .227 in 529 ABs for Pittsburgh, so he doesn't seem qualified.
Top manager: Frank Chance, for guiding Chicago to its toughest pennant of all.