The Triumphant and Controversial Story of Cap Anson

Bleacher Report Senior Writer INovember 15, 2008

Cap Anson was one of the greatest hitters, managers and innovators in baseball history. In a LONG career, he hit .300 in a season 24 times, including .380 three times. He played from 1871 to 1897 and even managed from 1879 to 1898.

Cap Anson was born on a frontier in Marshalltown, IA. His dad founded Marshalltown and was almost named Ansonia for that reason.

In the 1860s, teenager Cap Anson was playing for the Marshalltown All-Star Team and they got a reputation for having a great lineup. In 1869, at 17, Cap was accepted into Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN.

Anson organized the Notre Dame baseball club and served as a third baseman until 1871, when he signed with Rockford of the National Association. He would receive a whopping salary of $66 a month.

He hit .325 with 16 RBI as a rookie but left for the Philadelphia Athletics. He played well for them until 1876, when he joined the Chicago White Stockings, where his career would take a jump.

Anson and several teammates almost got the White Stockings expelled from the league when they negotiated their contracts during the regular season. That's when White Sox manager Bill Hubert created the National League.

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Anson was a champion—in every way, shape and form. He was dirty, racist, mean, and also a pioneer. He was a huge man, at 6'0", 227 pounds. Not huge by today's standards, but back then in the 1880s, Anson was a monster.

In 1882, he started to make a name for himself by driving in 83 runs and hitting .362. That marked his 13th straight season in which he hit .300 or better.

While he was a great ballplayer, he was not a great man, as I mentioned earlier. In an exhibition game in Toledo, OH, the White Stockings were to play a Toledo All-Star Team. One member of that team was Moses Fleetwood Walker, an African-American.

Anson hated the sight. He once claimed, "I will never step on the field that also has an African-American on it." He said it in less kind words, of course.

Anson was actually the manager at the time, and cursed, threatening to forfeit. Anson backed down and took the field. Five years later, the same thing happened. He and the White Stockings were going to play Newark, a racially-mixed club.

Newark's pitcher, George Washington Stovey, was black. Anson got his way this time and the White Stockings didn't play.

Anson made his mark on the field, though. He missed a mere 12 games from 1881 to 1890 and hit .308 or better in each of those seasons, including .399 in 1881. While his bating averages were solid, he was nothing short of an RBI machine. From 1884 to 1891, he was automatic, with RBI totals of 102, 108, 147, 102, 84, 117, 107 and 120.

In 1896, at 43 years young, he had his last full season—and a great one. He had two homers, 90 RBI and a .331 batting clip. He retired the next year after hitting .285 with three homers and 75 RBI. He tried to come back in 1900 by attempting to innovate the American Association. His criticism of baseball was quite clear:

"Baseball as at present conducted is a gigantic monopoly, intolerant of opposition and run on a grab-all-there-is-in-sight policy that is alienating its friend and disgusting the public that has so long cheerfully given it the support that it has withheld from other forms of amusement."

Later, he was named president of the American Association! After an unsuccessful term as president, Sporting Life writer Francis Richter said: "Anson made an ass of himself. A pitiful ending, to a brilliant, if meteoric leader of men."

Despite being out of baseball for good, the public remained in touch with Anson. He became city clerk of Chicago in 1905 and left in 1907. Struggling to live well, he became manager of a semi-pro baseball team and became an actor on the vaudeville stage.

However, the attempts failed. And the best hitter of the 1880's and 1890's went broke.

Anson died in 1922 and the National League paid for his funeral. Anson ended his career with 97 home runs, 2076 RBI and a .329 batting average. Sites such as baseballreference.com claim he had 3,418 hits. Ignore that. Baseball historian John Tattersal studied the box scores and learned Anson indeed had 2,995 hits.

Anson was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1939.


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