This Week in Cubs History: The Tainted Milestone and Legacy of Cap Anson
In this week’s edition of TWiCH, we turn the clock way back to 1897 to review the tainted legacy of Cubs player-manager Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson.
On July 16, 1897, Anson became the first player in major league history to recrod 3,000 hits. At the age of 45, Anson reached the milestone on a single against the Baltimore Orioles in a 2-1 loss at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.
Anson began his professional career in 1871 with the Rockford Forest Citys and was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics the following year. He stayed with the Athletics until 1875, after which he came to Chicago, where he played and managed until his retirement in 1897.
During his tenure in Chicago, Anson proved effective in both roles. He introduced the third base coach, having fielders back each other up, hit and run plays, and having more than one starting pitcher. That stuff is all so commonplace now that it’s hard to imagine it ever not being part of the game.
Anson’s life and career weren’t without controversy, though, and the trouble with his hit total is the least of it. The problem stems from an 1887 rule in which walks counted as hits. Modern statisticians initially removed Anson’s 60 walks from that season, putting his hit total to 2,995, but this was later changed.
Also, Anson played professional baseball in the National Association, which MLB does not consider as a professional baseball league. Yet another dispute was that records and scoring were inconsistent until the 20th century, though all major organizations have Anson over the 3,000 hit mark. This includes the Hall of Fame which credits Anson with 3,081 hits.
Of course, the much larger problem with Anson’s legacy was his virulent racism and mistreatment of African Americans in baseball. Anson was very vocal both on and off the field about keeping baseball segregated, to the point that he was considered the “Father of Segregated Baseball.”
A biography of the Hall of Famer put it like this: “[H]e rightfully should endure as the big leaguer who, until the late 1940s, was involved in the greatest number of reported negative incidents, on the field, relating to blacks.”
Anson reportedly refused to play games when the opposing roster featured black players, including one exhibition against the Toledo Blue Stockings they featured Moses Fleetwood Walker, an African American catcher. He reportedly relented when told his team would forfeit their share of the ticket revenue if they didn’t play.
Despite his despicable behavior, Anson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and still holds many Cubs records for career RBI, hits, runs, singles, and doubles. He is also the only Cubs player to be in the 3,000 hits club. Of course, you have to wonder how things might have been different had he not been so instrumental in keeping baseball segregated for so long.