Profile by BCB reader Kegler
Back when baseballs were medicine balls and saplings were used for bats, powerhitting was bunting for a double. Homeruns were virtually unheard of, unless you consider the inside-the-park variety, and this meant that the finer points of the game in the 1800s were the game (now they're only an aspect of the game, and not a very high priority one for recent Cubs teams). Strategic hitting, running, and expert fielding - with gloves that players often shared and weren't much bigger than their palms - were the ingredients used in winning a game. Our 19th century Cubbies (White Stockingies doesn't sound so good), as we all know, won pennants. Several, even. And the stars of those teams in baseball's murky, mysterious, black and white and out of focus pre-history played hard and lived harder. Our man Mr. Gore, alas, was no exception.
George Gore played centerfield for the White Stockings for seven seasons beginning in 1879, but not until he reached an agreement with the team about his pay, making him baseball's "first hold-out" as the New York Times put it. Throwing from the right but hitting from the left, he quickly established himself as one of baseball's best hitters by winning the NL batting title with a .360 average in his second year (1880), beating out his teammate and the man who signed him, Cap Anson. That year, Gore's slugging percentage was a whopping (and also league-leading) .463. And I'm serious: whopping. Remember, they used medicine balls back then, and my dad tells me the players all had to walk up hill both ways, to and from the field, each day, in a driving snowstorm, because back then baseball was a winter sport, which would account for the low power numbers and wool uniforms.
Anyway, Gore would never match his high average of 1880, but he would continue to be one of Chicago's most influential players. In 1881 and 1882, Gore led the NL in runs scored. He also scored over 100 runs seven times and finished with 1,327 runs scored in only 1,310 games. Long before Barry Bonds' walk totals began looking like lesser players' batting averages, Gore was strolling to first regularly, even walking 102 times in only 444 at-bats in 1886, which is quite a feat considering he only had six homeruns that season. Then again, six is impressive. Do you realize how hard it is to knock a medicine ball over a fence 360 feet away with a recently uprooted sapling? Hack Wilson tried it in 1934 and received a very bad sliver. It ended his career
Since Gore performed so well in 1886, ending the year with a .304 average and base-clogging .434 OBP, the Cubs- er, White Stockings - made a typically Cubbie-like move. They got rid of him. More specifically, Anson tired of Gore's lifestyle, which was characterized by hard drinking and plenty of women. If you ask me though, I think Anson had it in for Gore since losing the batting title in '80. You could tell by the way Cap would glare at Gore from the corner of the dugout each game, muttering to himself about that flashy Gore kid. The other players couldn't quite make out what Anson was saying, but to some it sounded enough like "Piano Legs" that Gore ended up with his nickname. What Anson was really calling Gore is best left to history.
In reality, Gore had Prior-sized calves, and that's how "Piano Legs" came about. It's too bad players don't have such descriptive nicknames anymore. As fans, perhaps we should try our best to bring back the tradition, eh? We've established two from this past season already: "Boom-Boom" Bynum and, one of my favorites, Ryan "Quiet" Theriot. Yeah, that last one doesn't make sense, but that's what's great about nicknames: most don't make sense. Like calling the slim guy Bubba and the giant Shorty, they stick best with less sense.
"Piano Legs" Gore's extensive use of the performance-enhancing drugs of his time, booze and sex, would finally catch up with him though, with or without a great nickname. Reports were that he spent his last years mostly penniless and working odd jobs in New York, just scraping to make ends meet. He died in Utica, New York at the age of 81 in 1933. A broken man, perhaps, but a once-great Cubbie.
ML Records Gore Holds or Held
- One of three players (4,000+ at-bats) with more runs scored than games
- Stole seven bases in a game on June 25, 1881
- Made five assists in a single game
- Two doubles and three triples, making five extra-base hits in a game on July 9, 1885