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1895

If Sam Thompson were in his prime today, his statistics would ensure a multi-million dolloar paycheck. Yet for some reason, Thompson's fame never extended beyond his own day, so that even though Thompson's plaque hangs in the Hall of Fame, visitors must find it to be one of the most obscure of all.   Yet consider what Sam Thompson did. He three times led the National League in hits, and twice led in home runs, including 1895, arguably his finest season. With Philadelphia that year, Thompson also led in RBIs -- he had 165 -- and batted .392. (That was a comedown from the .404 average he had posted in 1894.)

 

Thompson's real forte was the long ball. In an era that placed a premium on the bunt and hit and run, Thompson, at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, liked to rip at the ball. He posted a .654 slugging average in 1895, best in the league by 42 points, adding 45 doubles and 21 triples to his 18 home runs. Impressively, Thompson only struck out 11 times all season.

 

In right field on that 1895 Phillies team, Thompson was a member of one of the great outfields of all time. Next to him in center was Bily Hamilton, who hit .389 and stole 95 bases. In left field was Ed Delahanty, as much a slugger as Thompson, who batted .399 with 106 RBIs. The trio led an offense that generated a league-high 1,068 runs, an average of slightly more than 8 per game.

 

With that kind of production, why did the Phillies only finish third? Because unfortunately, the other team also got to hit. Phillie pitchers compiled a 5.47 ERA that season, makingthem the 10th rated staff in the 12-team league.

 

ELSEWHERE IN BASEBALL

Louisville forfeits a May 23 game to Brooklyn because it runs out of baseballs. Behind ace pitcher Cy Young, the Cleveland Spiders, second in the regular season, defeat the champion Baltimore Orioles in the post-season Temple Cup series. The winners pocket $528.33; the losers $316.

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1894

They may have been the dirtiest team in the history of baseball. They may also have been the most inventive. Beyond question, the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s rank as one of the most important teams that ever took the field.

It isn't just that the Orioles won, although they did. THey claimed the 1894 pennant with a record of 89-39, followed that with an 87-43 mark (and second championship) in 1895, then won for a third time in 1896 with their best performance of all, 90-39.   More than anything, it was the methods the Orioles invented in order to win. They perfected the hit and run play, the double steal, and the bunt single. They also refined the art of cheating. The Orioles knew that the single umpire employed in those days could not possibly see everything. Accordingly, they stored spare balls in the outfield for use in emrgencies. They cut corners when running the bases, and their catcher was known to drop pebbles in the shoes of batters so as to slow them down. A baserunning excursion in Baltimore could resemble a rugby scrum; runners expected to be jostled at first, second and third.

Even so, there was no denying the Orioles' talent. It started with "Wee Willie" Keeler, the outfielder whose mastery at the plate enabled him to post a lifetime .341 average. Keeler's best year was probably 1897 -- he hit .424 -- but selecting one season from Keeler's record is a clear case of choosing among superlatives. Anyway, the best of the three Baltimore teams probably was the 1894 group: Every starter batted at least .303,and the team average, an awe-inspiring .343, may never be surpassed. The Orioles also proved to be a breeding ground for managers. Future dugout leaders included John J. McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and Kid Gleason. Together, they won 16 pennants.

ELSEWHERE IN BASEBALL

On Memorial Day, Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters becomes the first player to hit four home runs in one game. The infield fly rule is adopted.

IN THE WORLD

A hurricane strikes the Texas coast Sept. 8; 6,000 are killed in and near Galveston.

 
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Chief of Diamonds

"Alexander Cartwright is a humble 25 year-old bank clerk seeking out a living in 1845 New York City."

 

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