Archive for the ‘19th Century players’ Category


John “Chief” Wilson played nine seasons of Major League baseball. Six for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1908-13) and three for the St. Louis Cardinals (1914-1916). Born August 21, 1883 in Austin, Texas, Wilson made his way to the majors after minor league stops in Fort Worth, Austin, and Des Moines. Never in serious contention for an MVP award (finished 8th once, 1912), and given teammates the likes of Honus Wagner and Max Carey, rarely counted among the top talents on his own side, Wilson holds an MLB record cemented in 103 years (3rd longest standing record) of league history and possibly beyond reasonable approach. As memorialized by a staff writer working for the Sporting Life (Sept 7 1912)

(Chief) Wilson’s three base shots are entitled to be credited as one of the wonders of 1912. Best of it all, few of the smashes have struck in front of fielders. They have been over the their heads or between the fields, all juicy jams.

All told Wilson notched 36 “three base shots” during the ’12 campaign, which accounts for 32% of his career total (114), and established a mark never seriously challenged (Sam Crawford, 26 in 1914) in the 100+ years to follow. Almost as eye-popping as the triples mark, Wilson managedForbesField2 to score just 80 runs in 1912. Subtracting his 11 HR, Wilson managed to score just 69 runs despite his record setting visits to third base. Benefiting from the triple-friendly confines of Forbes Field (360 to Left field, 462 to Center, 360 to Right) Wilson logged 24 of the record setting 36 at Home. He also orchestrated a yet unmatched stretch of 5 consecutive games with a triple to include three three-baggers during a June 20 2012 double-header. It is also fair to say the ground-rules of the day worked in Wilson’s favor. Fans, and the occasional marching band, attending games in the early 1900s were often allowed to mill about in the deeper sections of the outfield. A batted ball traveling beyond a grouping of fans was often deemed a “ground-rule triple”. Park dimensions and ground-rules aside, Chief Wilson led by 10 the next closest contender to the ’12 triples crown, Chicago White Sox famed batsman, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and has staved off all comers for more than a century.


John "Chief" Wilson

John “Chief” Wilson

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson


John “Chief” Wilson surpassed the 100 RBI mark once (107 in ’11), twice hit .300 (’11 and ’12), and was as durable as they came (missed 24 games over 7 year period). After nine productive years as a major league ball player Wilson retired to and ran the family ranch in Bertam, Texas. On October 24th 1954, at the age of 70, Wilson passed away of “natural causes”. Nicknamed “Chief” by Pirates teammate Fred Clarke, Wilson was neither of Native American decent, nor was he ever in the armed forces. Tall for his time (6’2), Wilson was said to have looked like the “Chief of the Texas Rangers” by Clarke. The nickname, as the record, persevered.


Chief Wilson

John “Chief” Wilson

Born James Edward O’Neill, the man later known simply as “Tip” was among the first Canadian born athletes to make his mark on the American pastime. A superb athlete, O’Neill began his professional baseball career as a member of the independent 1882 New York Metropolitans. The following year O’Neill made his major league debut as a member of the 1883 New York Gothams of the National League. Originally slotted as a pitcher, O’Neill struggled during his initial campaign with the Gothams, posting a record of 5-12 and an ERA of 4.07. In 1884 however, his promise began to show thru on the mound and at the plate. O’Neill went 11-4 in ’84, lowering his ERA to 2.68, and hitting a respectable .276 in 311 at bats. ’84 also marked the his first significant playing time in the field, as O’Neill logged 64 games in the outfield.


With a breakout campaign in 1886, Tip O’Neill showed himself as one the league’s top offensive performers. Leading the league in RBI with 109, O’Neill collected 190 hits, scored 106 runs, and finished the season with an impressive .328 batting average. As solid as was the ’86 campaign, it paled in comparison to that which O’Neill would produce in ’87, a season few since have approached. In just his second season of 500+ plate appearances (577), O’Neill dominated the offensive leader boards. His .435 batting average led the league and remains second only to the .439 mark logged by Hugh Duffy in 1894. “The Woodstock Wonder” also led his league in Runs (167, tied for 4th all-time), Hits (225), HR (14), RBI (123), and OPS (1.180, 26th all-time), secured the Triple Crown, and threw in 30 stolen bases for good measure. Although O’Neill put together a run of four straight .300+ campaigns (1888-1891), he never again approached the dominance displayed in 1887. After a disappointing stint in 1892 with the Cincinnati Reds O’Neill called it quits having amassed (1385) hits, (879) runs scored,and a lifetime batting average of .326. (all stats courtesy of


For all the impressive numbers generated during Tip O’Neill’s 10 year career, there remains one off the field incident which most resonates in review of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee (1993). Exhibition style games were a big source of revenue for 19th century baseball clubs, and the St. Louis Browns, like so many others, played their fair share. There is one infamous game however, left unplayed, which is most remembered today. From the New York Times, September 12th 1887:

The World Champion St. Louis Browns refuse to play the Cuban Giants. Prior to this there have mainly been dissensions by only a player here or there.

The Browns were in open revolt on 9/11. Von der Ahe had arranged for the Browns to play the Cubans on 9/12 at West Farms, near New York. He was promised a big guarantee. Over 15,000 were expected to addend. Von der Ahe booked the train fares and went to dinner. He was approached there by Tip O’Neill who laid the following letter on the table.

To Chris Von Der Ahe, Esq.:
Dear Sir: We, the undersigned members of the St. Louis Baseball Club, do not agree to play against negroes tomorrow. We will cheerfully play against white people at any time, and think, by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right, taking everything into consideration and the shape the team is in at present.
W.A. Latham, John Boyle, J.E. O’Neill, R.L. Caruthers, W.E. Gleason, W.H. Robinson, Charles King, Curt Welch.

Von der Ahe arose from his chair and found the players huddled in a corridor. When Von der Ahe demanded to know the meaning of the letter, Yank Robinson sneaked to the rear of the crowd, Silver King opened his mouth but words couldn’t come out and even Arlie Latham, whose jaws are always moving, couldn’t get a word out. Von der Ahe granted the players’ request though.

According to J. Thomas Metrick, as published in Chris Von Der Ahe & the St. Louis Browns (pg 72):

The night before the game (scheduled exh vs the all-black New York Cubans), as Von Der Ahe was enjoying a meal at a hotel in Philadelphia, Tip O’Neill stopped by to place a letter on the owner’s table and then hustle away from the scene.

After from retiring from in 1892 Tip O’Neill went onto help bring baseball to Montreal in 1898 in the form of the Montreal Royals of the Eastern League. James Edward O’Neill died of a heart attack on December 31st 1915, and is remembered to with the annual presentation of the Tip O’Neill Award to the Canadian baseball player “judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.” Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.