I’ve always been interested in Pythias Russ, the American Giants’ catcher and shortstop from the late 1920s whose career was cut short when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 26. Here’s his obituary in the Chicago Defender (August 16, 1930):
To this point, Pythias Russ’s exact birthdate has been unknown. However, it turns out that his death certificate gives his exact age at the time of his passing: 26 years, 4 months, 2 days. Assuming this is correct (since his parents were present at his death and probably the source of the birth information, this is not a bad assumption), his birth date would be April 7, 1904.
Pythias Russ’s statistics in the extant sources are gaudy; here are his batting averages from Holway’s Complete Book:
1925 (age 21) .327
1926 (age 22) .268
1927 (age 23) .350
1928 (age 24) .405
1929 (age 25) .386
For 1928, I have Russ batting, not quite .405, but still pretty good: .346/.382/.449 in 77 games, including two home runs in the league championship series with the St. Louis Stars.
The thing to remember here is that from 1926-1929 Russ was playing his home games in Schorling Park, where offenses went to die in the 1920s NNL. Looking at the raw numbers, you might assume that, while Russ was very good, he was not really comparable to Hall of Famer Willie Wells, his shortstop counterpart with the Stars, who batted .365/.425/.712 in 1928 (including the playoffs).
But consider the vast difference between their home parks. I have 14 box scores for Stars/American Giants games in 1928, including the playoff series. In the seven games played in Chicago, the two teams combined hit .264/.315/.320, scoring 53 runs (3.79 runs per game), and hitting a single home run. In the seven games played in St. Louis, the two teams hit .309/.361/.517, scoring 86 runs (6.14 runs per game), with 20 home runs.
Just as a quick test (not a full-blown study), I figured what Russ might have hit with Stars Park as his home field, using the above park statistics as a guide. The hypothetical St. Louis version of Pythias Russ comes out at .375/.410/.587; still not quite matching Wells, but much, much closer than without the park adjustment.
(Willie Wells, incidentally, hit six home runs in the 1928 NNL championship series, all in the five games played in St. Louis; see Kevin Johnson’s article on the 1928 St. Louis Stars in the SABR collection Mound City Memories: Baseball in St. Louis, put together for last year’s convention.)