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Archive for July 8th, 2011

To some Yankees’ fans, Derek Jeter’s pursuit of 3,000 hits has seemed to last an eternity. Although the Captain isn’t far off preseason projections, many have been awaiting the moment since his rookie year, so some impatience is understandable. Compared to Cap Anson’s wait, however, 17 years is a piece of cake. Even though the former White Stockings legend surpassed the 3,000 hit plateau sometime in the 1890s, it would take over a century before a consensus was reached regarding the legitimacy of his membership in the club.

For most of his 22 seasons with the White Stockings, Anson was one of the best players in the National League.

Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson was one of baseball’s first superstars. His career started in 1871, when baseball’s first professional league, the National Association (NA), was formed. Over the next five seasons, the first baseman pounded out 423 hits, mostly for the Philadelphia Athletics, but the NA folded following the 1875 season. In its place, however, the present day National League (NL) was formed, and Anson was one of the most highly sought after recruits.

Pops, as he would later be called, joined the NL’s Chicago White Stockings in 1876 and immediately continued his prolific hitting. Over his 22 seasons in Chicago, Anson compiled what must have seemed like a countless number of hits. The exact number probably seemed inconsequential at that time, but over the next 100 years, that figure would be hotly debated.

In addition to the official records compiled and published by the National League, several newspapers also endeavored to maintain baseball’s statistical history. The result was a process prone to contradiction because of both inherent bias (each team was responsible for compiling the official records of the official scorer designated at its home ballpark) and the inevitable errors associated with manual record keeping. As the sport progressed through its professional infancy, these inconsistencies didn’t really matter much, but as the record book became more sacred, discrepancies became the source of great controversy.

In 1914, Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie were both knocking on the door of 3,000 hits. Beforehand, there was never much reason to actually tally Anson’s hit total. However, with two of the National League’s best hitters approaching such a lofty milestone, a frame of reference was needed to help define their pending accomplishments.

Interest in Anson's hit total was inspired by Lajoie's (l.) and Wanger's (r.) pursuit of 3,000 hits in 1914.

In newspaper accounts chronicling Wagner’s and Lajoie’s pursuit of 3,000 hits, there was little agreement on just how many hits Anson had amassed. The New York Times gave Anson credit for 3,047, but other accounts cited totals that were lower. What all the scribes agreed upon, however, was Anson had over 3,000 hits in the National League, and that’s all that really mattered. Anson was now established as the founding member of an exclusive club that was about to welcome two more players into the fold.

As more hitters joined the 3,000 hit club, Anson’s total also continued to grow. By the time Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins became members in 1925, Pops was being credited with anywhere from 3,400 to 3,600 hits. The former Chicago first baseman was a great hitter, but 500 hits added after his retirement? Not even the legendary Anson was capable of that.

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