Year Inducted: 1939 (Veterans Committee)
Record keeping has always been the lifeblood of baseball statistics. This was, of course, insanely difficult in the era before computers and electronic databases. In the pre-1900’s era, every team had their own scorekeeper, and there weren’t any overseers from the league. As such, many errors were made that for a long time were passed down from generation to generation. Along with that, with baseball in its infancy, rules and stats were constantly in a state of flux. For example, there was at least one season where walks were counted as hits. Many historians have gone back and modified the stats for those old time players, but controversy remains. Some sites will use the old totals, some will use some of the corrections, some use all of the corrections and it can get confusing for studies such as this. The player that suffers the most from this is Cap Anson.
Anson was baseball’s first true superstar. According to Fangraphs, in his 27-year career Anson hit .333/.393/.445 with a wRC+ of 134. Fangraphs uses all of the corrections found that were mentioned above, and also counts Anson’s time in the National Association, which was technically a league at that point in time. Fangraphs totals Anson at 3418 hits, 581 doubles, 142 triples and 97 homers. Anson retired with records in total hits, doubles, RBI (2076) and runs scored (1996). In 27 seasons, Anson never had a wRC+ below 100 and only 7 seasons below 120. Anson was absolutely the best hitter of the early years, and was a solid fielder as well (+64 runs defensively). The only part of the game that Anson struggled with was baserunning. At a point in time when stolen bases were granted for any extra base advancement (i.e. going from first to third on a single), Anson had only 274 steals and was worth -35 runs as a baserunner. Despite the shortcomings on the bases, Anson was without a doubt the best player of the early years.
And now on to the uncomfortable parts of Anson’s legacy. As the primary superstar of the game, baseball wanted to appease him (along with many other players) when it came to race relations. Anson obviously wasn’t the only player that refused to play with African American players, but was very outspoken about it and would actively refuse to play with or against African American players. It would be unfair to say that Anson was the sole reason that the “gentleman’s agreement” that was maintained until the 1940’s (Kennesaw Landis would probably be more to blame as he was a Commissioner), but it is likely he had a role.
Anson retired as the best player the game had seen, and was rightfully voted into the Hall of Fame in 1939. He may not have been the best person, but he was a great player.
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