Levi Meyerle Bio

In a total baseball nerd experience, I was at Cooperstown last weekend for a Bachelor Party. 

While in the HOF they made an announcement saying there will be a trivia contest.  This being the grown up equivalent to running the bases at a Major League park I ran to the Bullpen Theatre for the contest.

The format is the same as “So you want to be a Millionaire”.  The first qualifying question was
-There have been 12 pitchers to win 3 games in a World Series, who was the last?

I knew the answer right away but I let other people guess wrong first, Andy Pettite etc.

Then I threw down, Randy Johnson and I got in the hot seat. 

There were nine questions or “innings”.  They were mostly easy but got help on who the first two umps inducted were and what the two unretired single digit Yankee numbers. 

The final question was – Who was the first batting champ of the National Association in 1871?  The four options – Cap Anson, Al Spalding, Levi Meyerle and Ross Barnes.  I knew Anson played later than 1871 and Al Spalding was a pitcher.  I wasn’t familiar with Meyerle but I may have heard of Ross Barnes.  I polled the audience and they overwhelmingly voted for Spalding.  Popularity contest?

Anyways, the answer was Meyerle and I did not win the Membership to the HOF ($30 value).

“Long” Levi Meyerle was aptly nicknamed, being over six feet tall, he was a pioneer day Randy Johnson.  Of Jewish descent he played third base, very poorly for several Philadelphia based clubs.  He was able to keep his job with Philadelphia clubs due to his extraordinary batting skills.

Meyerle’s career was spent mostly in the National Association of Baseball Players and then his Philadelphia Athletics joined the National Association of Baseball Clubs in 1871.  He entered baseball earlier playing with several Philadelphia area clubs in the National Association of Base Ball Players.  The National Association of Baseball Clubs is considered the first organised league.  However, Major League baseball does not consider it an Official Major League.  However, some sources, authors, historians treat the NA as Major.  The division between major and minor league was not as significant or even relevant in Meyerle’s time. 

In 1871 Meyerle was 21 and his Philadelphia Athletics won the NA pennant with a 21-7 record.  He led the league in average, with a .492 mark and also in home runs with 4.  Meyerle was the leader in many offensive categories that year.  He also fielded at a .642 rate in a league that fielder .833.  Throughout his career he was moved around the field, he proved a burden in the field whereever he went.  He certainly was a case for an early DH rule.  He holds the distinction of one of the lowest fielding averages in baseball history.  He was well over an error per game rate throughout his 8 year career.

Philadelphia Athletics, 1874

Levi was among the best players throughout the history of the National Association.  If the NA is ever granted major league status he should be a shoe in for the Hall of Fame.  Meyerle crossed over into the newly formed NL in 1876 and continued to battle Ross Barnes for batting supremacy.  Meyerle faded off after he was 27 and played in smaller minor leagues.  Meyerle made a brief Satchel Paige style comeback with his hometown Philadelphia Keystones of the short lived Union Association in 1884. 

He died in Philadelphia in 1921.  While a fan favourite and a star of reknown in the early leagues, he was amongst the highest earning stars, he is mostly forgotten except for trivia games in the Bullpen Theatre in Cooperstown. 

Check out his record at baseball-reference.com      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/meyerle01.shtml

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  • Early, what are your thoughts on these 1870ish ballplayers making it into the HOF?

    Two Questions. The first on Levi, the second on baseball in general.

    1.) Levi played around 30 – 40 games per season. Does the small sample hurt or do you take the stance that it’s not his bad and he produced when needed?

    2.) Should there be a cut off number or percentage per era. Ie if there are 150 regular full-timers, on average per season during the 1870’s, which percentage should go in?

  • Thight_PP

    I think you have to take these old timers as what they are. They played a different game, and they played it well.

    In a hundred years when players are so big and fast there are only 2 outfielders, will that make 3 outfielders era players any less great?

  • Early

    I am ok with them going into the HOF but I don’t think that these antique records should be considered ML records.

    I think that is the big hinderance with the National Association becoming a major league is the short season and the damage it will do to the record books. The averages are all abberations.

    Like the Negro Leagues, who are legitimate HofFers and have plaques on the wall and such but very vague accomplishments. Players such as Meyerle should also be considered in an Antique or Pioneer Player category. While the NA season was 30-50 games, the players or teams played much more barnstorming or cash prize games.

    While Cap Anson was the first Super Star, many local stars and multi-sport stars existed before the NL in 1876. They should have their spot in the Sun!


    I’ve known of “Long Levi” for years and you have him described exactly right — an excellent hitter (I don’t think he ever hit under .300 in his era’s version of “the majors”), but couldn’t field to save his life. But I guess it’s worth noting that Al Spaulding said Meyerle wasn’t quite as poor of a fielder as is usually noted. As for the National Association, it was considered a major league until, I believe, 1968, when MacMillan moved its records to a separate section of the Baseball Encyclopedia. Last I saw, those records are still listed separately. You can make a decent case for it being a major league, but as you note, there were numerous problems with it. The season was shorter than the NL’s; generally 55-60 games. There was also a lot of betting and dozens, maybe hundreds, of fixed and/or thrown games. Also, if a club didn’t feel like making a road trip — didn’t want to spend the money — it simply didn’t make it. There was no organization to prevent that from happening. By the way, for anyone interested, there was an excellent book on the NA. It’s called “Blackguards and Red Stockings,” written by William J. Ryczek, published by Colebrook Press in 1992. I’m sure it’s long out of print, but it’s worth searching for if you have an interest in early baseball. Another by the way, and perhaps totally useless information, the last man alive who played in the NA was a guy named John McKelvey. He played 43 games for the New Haven Elm Citys in 1875 and hit .208. He died on May 31, 1944 at the age of 96. Wouldn’t it have been great to talk to him and ask him what the NA was really like?!