Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-009578. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Photo taken in 1911.
Cap Anson was a larger-than-life figure who came to personify major-league baseball during its first quarter-century. He is generally recognized as the greatest 19th-century player, and his accomplishments on the field remain impressive over one hundred years after his retirement. He played 27 years at the highest levels the game then had to offer, and was a regular the entire span. He was the embodiment of the National League its first 22 seasons, all played for Chicago.
Anson is probably the single most important figure in Cubs history, and one of the handful of most important in the game's history. He was the preeminent figure in Chicago sport for nearly half a century, remaining a national celebrity long after his retirement from the majors. In that time he progressed from "Baby", to "Captain", to "Pop". The team was named the "White Stockings" by its founders, but its succeeding apellations were acquired based on Anson's trials and tribulations. They became the "Colts" when Anson's veterans were sold, and the "Orphans" when he left, in bitterness and anger.
Anson's life is the saga of the America he lived in. Born on the frontier, he became an urban sophisticate, a world traveler, a paragon of the virtues and values of his era; including great flaws for which history would be unforgiving. Our modern judgments of Anson, as a player and a man, would have astounded his contemporaries, and differ dramatically from what they were even a generation ago. It is an object lesson on the transience of even the most secure credoes and reputations.
Strictly as a player, Anson has cause to be ranked first in this list. That Ernie Banks remains on top is a reflection on Anson's and Sosa's negatives. Sammy's are well enough known. The baseball of Anson's time is not to be compared, in athletic quality or competitiveness, with the game that developed later. Ernie remains the number one man, in our considered opinion.
Henry Anson, and untold thousands like him, built the Midwest, and the families that they raised there, in their image. Born in New York, raised in Michigan, and wed in Ohio, he looked west to make his life. He packed his wife, Jeannette, and two small sons into a prairie schooner and set out for Iowa. He housed his family temporarily in Illinois while he made his final search alone.
The frontier of the 1850s is more usually regarded as the Great Plains and beyond, but most of the new states carved out of, and alongside, the old Northwest Ordinance were equally wild and unsettled. Iowa had been admitted to the Union only five years before. The Black Hawk War had been fought in the area only twenty years before. The Sac and Fox tribes had ceded their land rights by treaty less than a decade earlier. The chieftain Keokuk, a rival of Black Hawk's whose accommodations with the whites would allow Henry Anson and his family to live on the land they chose, had died in his namesake village only three years previously.
Henry Anson chose a tract almost exactly in the center of the state, on high ground along the divide between Linn Creek and the Iowa River. There, in summer, 1851, he raised a log cabin and established his claims. He returned to Illinois to retrieve his family, and they arrived at the homestead that autumn. In that log cabin, Henry's third son was born April 17, 1852, the first white child born in the area. He was named Adrian Constantine, in honor of two Michigan villages in which his father had lived in his youth. Melville and Sturgis, the older sons, had been born in Ohio. Melville would die in Iowa before 1860, aged about ten.
Henry Anson named his settlement Marshall. When informed, at the establishment of the post office, that a Marshall already existed in Iowa, he expanded the name to Marshalltown. He had hoped to found the future state capital, but Marshalltown would become a county seat instead. Henry was not the first settler of any kind, a Potawatomi chief, Che Meuse (adopted name Johnny Green), was living in the area, and proved invaluable in assisting Anson and his followers in their ventures and progress. The children of Che Meuse's tribe would become the first playmates of the young Anson brothers.
Iowa had been admitted to the Union under provisions of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slavery was illegal there. But the Iowa legislature, as a territory and later as a state, passed restrictive "black codes", forbidding immigration of free African-Americans, and denying basic rights to those already present. All the new states of the Midwest enacted, or had enacted, similar laws. Illinois, though admitted as a free state, (before the Compromise), allowed previous slavery to exist under a "grandfather clause" until 1845. Iowa would not allow the vote to blacks until 1865, and at that was the first midwestern state to do so. These were the values, and the attitudes, prevalent even within the free territory of the North. They were the common currency of Adrian's upbringing, alongside the more usual traditional values of the time.
As the privileged son of the founding father of the region, Adrian Anson grew up confident, secure, and arrogant. The town grew with, and around him; his father was farmer, surveyor, land agent, justice of the peace, hotelier, and county supervisor. Young Anson romped in the woods with his Potawatomi pals. It was a boyhood of the sort later found in storybooks. Adrian was headstrong by nature, and was a wild, overbearing child. He was also a physical prodigy, large from an early age, finding satisfaction only in athletic challenge and competition. Chores and responsibility, essentials on the frontier, were beneath his youthful dignity.
Jeannette Anson died in 1859, and Henry's sister Emily moved to Marshalltown to help raise the brothers. In an effort to impose some structure onto his sons' characters, Henry Anson sent them to Notre Dame, and later to State University in Iowa City. These sojourns did nothing to tame Adrian's nature, he was asked to leave both institutions after brief stays. (Both allowed, at that time, prep enrollments as young as 14, Adrian's age when he entered ND). Adrian and Sturgis played ball for these colleges, and joined the town team, the Marshalltown Stars, upon returning home.
The Stars, anchored by Henry Anson and his sons, became a local powerhouse, winning the Iowa state championship in 1868. Adrian was second team until 1866, and his desire to make the "varsity" changed his attitudes and behavior. Adrian had now found his passion, to which he would bring his energy, newfound discipline, and moral code. But there was nothing in Marshalltown to further the professional ambitions of a ballplayer, Adrian would need a chance from elsewhere. And then, in the summer of 1870, one came marching straight into town.
In 1870 the Forest City professional baseball club, based in Rockford, Illinois,led by Albert Spalding, the greatest pitcher of the day, embarked on a tour of the Midwest. They stayed two days in Marshalltown, and played two games with the local team, winning by the surprisingly competitve (by Forest City standards) scores of 18-3 and 35-5. They were impressed by the play of the Ansons, and sent contract offers to all three after the tour was completed. Henry had no intention of leaving the town and businesses he had founded, and Sturgis, too, preferred to make his future in Iowa. But Adrian saw his life's chance, and in the spring of 1871, aged barely nineteen, he began his professional career in Rockford, at a salary of $66 per month.
Rockford belonged to the newly-formed National Association, regarded by many historians as the first major league. It was certainly recognized at the time as a league outranking all others. Spalding had departed for the east coast, playing for Boston; and Rockford, deprived of its biggest star and gate attraction, finished last in its initial, and only, NA season. Rockford was the smallest, and most westerly, of the Association's cities, and hence the most vulnerable. The team folded at the close of `71, after compiling a 4-21 record within the league. Anson had emerged as the team's undisputed star, leading the club by a wide margin in almost every batting category. Anson was offered a position on the Philadelphia Athletics for 1872, at a huge raise, and accepted. In the fall of 1871, Anson became a big-city boy for good, moving to Philadelphia, at the new salary of $1250 per season.
Anson played for Philadelphia 1872-75, the remaining years of the NA, and became, over that time, one of the biggest stars in the game. As baseball itself gained in popularity, the quality of players, salaries, and facilities followed suit. Philadelphia was competitive in these years, but Boston, led by Spalding, was the power of the league, winning all four pennants `72-'75.
Anson was an all-purpose infielder in these earliest days, but his reputation, then and later, would be made with his bat. In his last year at Philadelphia, his salary rose to $1800 per season. He also acquired his first experience as a manager, piloting the Athletics at the end of the season on an interim basis.
In the summer of 1874, Anson was part of the Spalding-organized exhibition tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland, an attempt to proselytize the game in what was hoped to be fertile foreign soil. The Boston and Philadelphia teams made the trip, playing in Liverpool, Manchester, London, Sheffield, and Dublin. The two teams would play one another in a competitve baseball game, then combine to play a cricket match against a local British team. The English were not impressed by baseball ("Why, it's only rounders", said the future Edward VII), but were taken with the American skill at cricket, the "colonials" won several of the matches.
The tour was a financial loss, but it gave Anson a taste of travel, and a sense of the possibilities within his profession for organizational and leadership roles. He and Spalding renewed acquaintances, and a long-lasting and productive friendship began.
Spalding was plotting a professional coup, along with the owner of the Association's Chicago franchise, William Hulbert. The NA had developed fatal flaws; drunkenness, gambling, and bribery had become common. Hulbert and Spalding were convinced that big-time baseball had a future, provided its financial and moral tone could be elevated. They saw themselves as the men to do so, saviors of the new game.
Hulbert assembled representatives of seven other potential ownership groups in New York City in February, 1876, and presented his proposal, and constitution, for a new league. The National League, with a membership of eight clubs, was founded February 2, 1876, adopting Hulbert's constitution almost without change. The NL forbade use of alcohol by players, or its sale at parks. It forbade gambling, with a lifetime ban imposed on players caught "fixing" games. It forbade scheduled games on the Sabbath. All these measures were necessary at that moment, but most would become anachronisms within a few years. Hulbert handed the presidency of the league to a figurehead for the first year, then assumed it himself in 1877, turning the Chicago team presidency over to Spalding.
Hulbert and Spalding's first order of business was to assemble a strong hometown team represenatative of their ideas. Spalding himself joined the Chicago club, bringing Boston stars Deacon White, Cal McVey, and Ross Barnes with him. Spalding then recommended Anson to Hulbert. Anson was an attractive catch; a young star, retaining the local fame from his Rockford days, and he had already made a reputation as a moral standard-bearer. Anson did not smoke or gamble, and was a publicly devout man. He was not (yet) a teetotaller, he indulged in an occasional good time. (During one such indulgence, in Philadelphia, he was dressed down by his future wife, who encounted him, inebriated, on the public way).
Hulbert offered Anson a salary of $2000, and a contract was signed. But a complication arose, Adrian's fiancee in Philadelphia, Virginia Fiegal, daughter of a prominent businessman, refused to move to Chicago. Anson went so far as to offer Hulbert $1000 for his release, but was turned down. The differences were eventually smoothed over, Adrian and Virginia were married in November, 1876, and took up residence in Chicago. Their marriage was happy and lasting, although tinged by personal tragedies. The couple had seven children; four daughters survived, three sons died in infancy.
The Chicago White Stockings of 1876, with Spalding as manager and pitcher, won the first NL pennant handily, not necessarily a healthy result for a brand-new league. It hurt the gate, and led to the league's first crises; New York and Philadelphia, assured of losing money, refused to make their final road trips. Louisville players were caught throwing meaningless games. New York and Philadelphia were expelled from the league, the Louisville players were banned. The NL made up the gap by recruiting teams from smaller eastern cities, and was back to eight clubs by 1879.
Anson played at third base in 1876, batting .343. But Spalding was the star, with a record of 47-13, pitching, as was the custom, almost every game. Anson had solid seasons in `77 and `78, hitting .337 and .341, playing several positions in the field. But the team declined sharply. Spalding's arm finally broke down in `77, and he retired from the playing field in `78, moving permanently to the front office. The aging stars imported from Boston faded quickly, by 1879 Anson was the only remaining player from the original 1876 roster.
Hulbert, Spalding, and Anson were forming a triumvirate of sorts within the league. The two executives promoted their ideas of professional conduct from the front office, Anson from the field. But the league was unhealthy away from the diamond. Five of the original eight franchises had folded or been expelled by 1879, replaced with clubs in cities like Troy, Worcester, Hartford, and Syracuse, places incapable of financially supporting the highest quality teams. In 1879, the NL, although still declaring itself the only "major" league, was in fact of no higher quality than most of the minor leagues with which it competed. The very idea of "major league" baseball was in peril. Anson, from his perspective, saw things his ownership did not, and itched to try his remedies, but neither Spalding nor Hulbert was yet ready to give him the position of authority from which he could implement his ideas.
Robert Ferguson had been made Chicago manager in 1878, succeeding Spalding, leading the team to a fourth-place finish. Ferguson's leadership had not impressed, and Spalding was finally ready to hire Anson to the position he had long desired. Anson assumed his duties as manager May 1, 1879.
Anson now began to implement his ideas on the field, and had the ear of the front office for his ideas elsewhere, and Spalding listened. The Chicago club began a systematic program to identify, and sign (sometimes raid), the best players from other teams and leagues. Anson would often scout potential signees personally. On the field, Anson imposed a regimen of strict discipline, disobedience would sometimes be remedied by physical force. In short order, Anson built the greatest team in history to that time, helped in no small measure by the fact that he was himself entering his prime as a player. This was his one and only period as an innovator, and the league imitated and emulated him, to the benefit of all. After 1880, the NL claim to bring "major" was no longer in doubt. New York and Philadelphia were readmitted in 1883 with new franchises, and the smaller venues were gradually eliminated.
Anson, in his prime, looked and acted the very picture of an athlete. He was the biggest man physically in the NL for most of his tenure. He stood 6'1", 220 lbs, all of it muscle, an imposing presence. He was handsome, and stylish in dress and carriage. The manager was the only person, at that time, allowed to address the umpire, and Anson made the most of this, his too-frequent arguments were often deliberately theatrical and sometimes comic. He was not above using his status as the league's most important star to gain leverage with umpires or team officials.
Anson was a right-handed batter and thrower. Although immensely strong, he did not use his power for distance hitting (he occasionally took a full cut, with sometimes spectacular results). Anson was a place hitter, standing with legs together, flicking his bat forward with his forearms and wrists, sending sharp line drives to all parts of the field. His hitting accuracy led to the development of the first hit-and-run plays. His plate discipline was extraordinary, he struck out only once in `78, twice in `79. He never struck out more than thirty times in any season. No record exists that he was hit by a pitch his entire career. In the field, Anson was merely adequate, one of his first moves on becoming manager was to place himself permanently at first base. His mobility declined sharply as he aged, but when younger, he was one of several first sackers who initiated playing off the bag, a true fourth infielder. He is sometimes credited as the first to use signs, and the first to devise backup positions for his fielders.
The 1879 White Stockings challenged for the pennant, but faltered at the finish, as Anson missed the final weeks with a kidney infection, incurred, he thought, after an evening of mild alcoholic indulgence. After this, Anson, with the zeal of a convert, added temperance to his list of manly Christian virtues.
1880 was Anson's first full year as manager, and he took the field with a team built with his own hands. Catcher Mike "King" Kelly, pitchers Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran, and outfielders George Gore and Abner Dalrymple were all new arrivals, some personally scouted by Anson. Anson, in fact, had an embarrassment of riches, especially in pitching. Corcoran and Goldsmith could each have been primary starter. So, before the season ended, Anson did something which, remarkably, no one else had thought to do at the major-league level, he alternated them in the lineup, the first rotation. The results were incredible, the 1880 White Stockings breezed to the pennant with a record of 67-17, including a 21-game winning streak June 2-July 8. The .798 percentage is highest in NL history. Anson batted .337, second on the team to Gore. Corcoran pitched the first no-hitter in team history August 19.
Anson's abilities as a run producer led the Chicago Tribune to propose a new stat, runs-batted-in. It would take years to become official, but research would reveal that Anson led the NL in RBI eight times, still the major league record. Chicago's success led to a peace agreement of sorts within the league. The reserve clause was instituted in NL contracts beginning in 1880, Anson's raids would be a thing of the past.
1881 was another pennant-winning year, and the finest of Anson's career as a player. He batted .399 (the only player ever to finish at exactly that), the first of his two batting titles, with 82 RBI. He led the league in hits and total bases. The White Stockings threepeated in 1882, this one a close race, a three-game margin over the rising Providence Grays.
Chicago finished second in `83, fourth in `84; the league had caught up with them, and Fred Goldsmith was declining in effectiveness. Anson continued his stellar performances, hitting .308 and .335. 1884 was a great freak year in Anson's career, made possible by a change in the ground rules at Lakefront Park, the White Stockings' home from 1878-84. (When you admire the "Bean" in Millennium Park, you are standing where the infield used to be). Balls hit over the short LF fence (180 feet down the line in 1884), were scored home runs this season only, they had previously been ground-rule doubles. Third baseman Ned Williamson hit 27 homers that year, the record Babe Ruth would eventually break in 1919. Anson had his only double-digit total of home runs (21). On August 6 he became the second player in history to hit three home runs in one game (Williamson had done it May 30). In so doing he also became the first to hit five in two games (still the record, often equalled), as he had hit a pair August 5.
Anson appeared ready to return to the top in `85. The "Chicago Stone Wall", the greatest infield of its day (Williamson, Burns, Pfeffer, Anson, third to first), was in place. Mike Kelly was the best catcher in the league. Corcoran was primary pitcher, but backup John Clarkson, a product of an Anson scouting trip in `84, would lead the White Stockings to the pennant after Corcoran broke down early in the season. Anson considered the `85-'86 teams the best he managed.
Anson, and his team, were now national figures. They were a hustling bunch, hell-raisers off the field, much at variance with Anson's stated principles of virtue. As long as the team won, and did not defy him in public, he was content to try to shame them into reform. Spalding once hired a Pinkerton detective to shadow Kelly during one nocturnal, multi-tavern binge. The report was read, in Kelly's presence, during a team meeting. When asked for his comment, the "King" replied: "I have to offer only one amendment. In that place where the detective reports me as taking a lemonade at 3 a.m., he's off. That was straight whiskey. I never drank a lemonade at that hour in my life." One supposes Anson saw no humor in the reply.
In 1882 the American Association, the self-proclaimed "beer and whiskey league", had begun play as a declared second "major league". They offered alcohol and Sunday games, and their rising popularity forced the NL into change. Hulbert had died suddenly in April 1882, clearing the way for accommodations that likely would not have been made had he lived. A postseason championship, the "World Series", was negotiated, and was held between the two leagues 1884-90. The World Series of 1885, between Chicago and the St. Louis Browns, was a competitive joke, neither team took it seriously. It ended in a tie, 3-3-1.
Anson's last great innovation was yet another attempt to reform his rowdy bunch by example. In 1886 he began an annual team preseason "spring training" regimen in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This was, in Anson's words, a means to "boil out the fat" accumulated over the winter. In time, he would have his doubts about the practice, feeling it counterproductive to train in warm weather, and return to play in cold.
Chicago won another flag in 1886, one of Anson's best years. He batted .371, with 187 hits in 125 games. His 147 RBI were his career high. He had his greatest day at the plate August 24, against Boston, at the West Side Grounds; five hits, including two homers, with six runs scored, in an 18-6 victory. This would be Anson's last pennant, he had won five over seven seasons. He was now 34 years old, and had been a major-leaguer sixteen years. Most players were through by this point in their careers, but Anson had more than a decade left.
The `86 Series was the most competitive of the early matchups, renegotiated formats and gate receipt sharing (winner take all), assured a difference in attitude and play. Chicago lost the Series, to St. Louis, 4-2. Spalding blamed the defeat on the nocturnal carousing of some of his stars, and Anson reluctantly agreed to a housecleaning. It was a profitable one, Kelly was the first to go, sold to Boston after `86 for the mind-boggling price of $10,000. Gore and McCormick were also sold. Clarkson, though still in his prime, was sold to Boston, for the same price as Kelly, early in 1888.
The leaner, younger team now began to be called the "Colts", and had promise, new stars Jimmy Ryan and George Van Haltren anchored a solid team. Chicago finished third in 1887, despite great years from Clarkson (his last in Chicago), and Anson. Cap officially won the batting title, hitting .421, though `87 is one of the seasons that maddens today's researchers and editors. Bases on balls were scored as hits that year only. Most references recalculate the `87 averages, and Anson "drops" to .347, second behind Sam Thompson's .372.
Anson won an undisputed batting title, his second and last, in 1888, hitting .344. Ryan emerged as a major star, and would remain one the rest of the 1800s. The Colts finished second. In the following off-season, Anson embarked on what he would consider the high point of his life.
Spalding's World Tour was a magnificent fiasco, a round-the-world excursion in which the Colts, and other NL all-stars, would play exhibitions in New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, and Europe. It was a money-loser for Spalding, and for Anson, who had also invested; but left lasting impressions and memories. Anson devotes nearly a third of his memoirs to an account of this trip. Anson had a falling out with fellow investor John Hart, who acted as financial manager, and this had important consequences later.
Today, the bulk of Anson's reputation rests on two incidents that occurred during exhibition games in the 1880s. The White Stockings, as did all major league teams, played numerous exhibitions on their travels before, during, and after the regular season. It was a welcome source of revenue for host and guest.
On August 10, 1883, the White Stockings played a scheduled exhibition against the Toledo Blue Stockings. The Blue Stockings' star catcher was Moses Walker, a black, established and well-regarded in Toledo. On this particular day, Walker was injured, and not in the lineup. Anson, not knowing this, decided to make a scene during the traditional pregame lineup exchange. He announced, in his most theatrical and bellicose manner, that his team would not take the field if Walker did. Toledo manager Charlie Morton, insulted, responded that Walker would indeed play, after all, and any withdrawal by Anson would forfeit his share of the gate receipts; as the Blue Stockings would play against a team of nine fans, if necessary, to ensure a game. The two managers argued for over an hour before Anson conceded and took the field. Money had defeated "principle".
The game went on, with Walker in center field. Anson was roundly criticized in the local press, and when Toledo joined the American Association in 1884, Moses Walker, and his brother Welday, would become the first black major-leaguers. The White Stockings would return to Toledo for another exhibition in `84, and this time Anson insisted on a written pregame agreement banning the Walkers. He got it.
There would be no further blacks in the majors, though there were several in the minors throughout the mid `80s. The brand-new Sporting News, already an influence in the game, wrote racist editorials calling for bans based on color. On July 14, 1887, the White Stockings played an exhibition against the Newark Little Giants. The Giants boasted an all-black battery; George Stovey, one of the best pitchers of the day, with Moses Walker behind the plate. Newark, unlike Toledo, did not respect its black players, there had been ugly incidents during the season, before Chicago's arrival.
"Get that n***** off the field!" shouted Anson as Stovey strode to the mound to warm up. Newark management did not have the fortitude displayed by Toledo, and Anson got his way. That very day, as it happened, the owners of the International League, to which Newark belonged, voted to ban future signings of black players. Later that year, in another well-publicized racial incident, Charles Comiskey's AA champion Browns would refuse to play a scheduled exhibition aginst the Cuban Giants. Although the "color line" was never formally put in writing within the majors, by 1897 all of Organized Baseball abided by it.
Anson had no power to draw those lines in the leagues' names, or vote on the bans. But his arrogance and theatrics in both incidents; and passages in his memoirs in which he describes, in despicable terms, the Colts' black mascot, Clarence Duval, have damned him by modern standards. To say that Anson is the father of segregated baseball is a serious overstatement; to say that he significantly influenced, by his example, those who did draw that line, is not.
Racism was called by its name in Anson's time. He had the choice to overcome it, but didn't. His personal bombast has not helped his case in history, the self-appointed paragon falls harder than the mere bigot. Whether Anson changed his attitude with time is an open question, as will be seen. In recent years, as the history of segregated ball and the Negro Leagues has received long-overdue attention, Anson's behavior in these affairs has come to be considered his primary legacy.
Following the World Tour, Spalding and Anson signed an unprecedented ten-year contract. Anson was 36, and his days of innovation were well behind him. He would begin a long, slow decline as a player, and as an authority figure. He was increasingly seen as stubborn, out of touch, old fashioned. His relationships with players and management would steadily deteriorate. But he was still a star on the field, and at the gate. He was a draw until the end of his playing days, the grand old man of the game.
He now was the all-time leader in games, runs, hits, doubles, and RBI. He was the oldest player in the league from 1892. He could hit, but his speed and fielding range were all but gone. In 1892 Anson became the last first baseman in the NL to don a glove. He was increasingly critcized in the press for his age and declining skills, and there were yearly speculations as to his retirement as a player.
By early 1890, Spalding had made Anson a shareholder, with a thirteen percent stake in the team. This was the year that the new Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players broke with the National League over the reserve clause and formed their own organization, the Players League. Anson, the consummate company man, derided the league and its members loudly in the press, gleefully predicting the imminent demise of player-run ball. Again his bombast exceeded his power, the PL indeed folded after one season, through no fault of Anson's, but he was perceived as a ringleader in the failure. Once more he had placed himself, ultimately, on the wrong side of history.
Anson's and Spalding's refusal to accept the return of "traitors" would cost them. The young stars who had provided second or third place finishes for the Colts in 1887-89 would shun Chicago; and the team, though competitive for a short while longer, would fall into mediocrity until after the start of a new century.
The Colts finished a surprising second in 1890 and `91, but Anson had now declined noticeably, 1891 was his first professional season under .300 (.291). On September 4 of that year, in response to a particularly scathing newspaper article denigrating his age, Anson took the field in Chicago wearing a long white wig and white stage whiskers, to the delight of all. Gratified by the response, Anson wore his costume the entire game.
Spalding reorganized the Chicago front office in 1891-92, and signed a new contract with Anson. Cap's thirteen percent ownership was retained, but one year was removed from the contract's length. Spalding also pulled a bit of subterfuge. Anson's salary was to be paid, in part, from profit-sharing. The Colts were, at this time, building a new park, the second West Side Grounds, and as Spalding well knew, no profits would be declared, after construction costs. Anson received little or no compensation from team profits in any of his final seasons.
Of equal importance, Spalding hired John Hart as team president, and officially retired, although as majority owner he continued to exercise veto power behind the scenes. Anson and Hart already had a history, and this new relationship intensified their mutual dislike. They fought constantly. Anson felt himself under siege, from the front office and his young players, who chafed at his strict discipline and interference in their off-field behavior.
The Colts in 1892 held first place into mid-September, when Boston, riding the crest of an 18-game winning streak, overtook them and won the pennant. Anson would always believe that Boston's opponents threw games to deprive him of the championship, an act of revenge for the collapse of the Players League. In 1894, Anson made a remarkable playing comeback, hitting .388 at age 42, his last big year. His team faded badly, finishing no higher than fourth 1893-97.
1897 was the last year of Anson's contract, and the Chicago faithful sensed the end. Cap had, at any rate, announced that `97 would be his last year as a player. May 4, the home opener, was "Cap Anson Day", Anson was presented with gifts and fan testimonials. He singled his first at-bat, following a standing ovation of several minutes. Cap continued as a regular, playing 114 games, batting .285, with 75 RBI, at the age of 45. The last day of the season, October 3, was a doubleheader against St. Louis. Anson homered twice in the opener, a 10-9 Colt loss. Anson is the oldest player with a multihomer game. Cap held, at one time, the records for the oldest player to do virtually everything on the diamond, but this is the only one that remains. In the nightcap, Anson's last major league game as a player, he stole a base in the 7-1 victory. The Colts finished ninth, the worst placing of Anson's managerial career. After season's end, Anson berated his players and ownership in newspaper interviews, placing his chances for retention as manager in jeopardy.
Anson and Spalding took a trip together to England in the winter of 1897-98; according to Anson, their differences were settled and his position as manager affirmed. But Anson arrived home to find Tom Burns already named manager, plus a request from Spalding for his resignation. Anson refused to resign, and was "fired", receiving his unconditional release February 1. For the next several years the team would be called the "Orphans" in the press. In nineteen seasons as Chicago manager, Anson's record was 1288-944, a .577 percentage. He won five pennants, and finished second five times.
Anson was hired to manage the New York Giants for 1898, but it proved a poor match, his brief tenure was a constant squabble with players and ownership. Cap was fired after posting a 9-13 record. It was his last job in major league ball.
By some accounts, Anson earned over $300,000 in his career, a huge sum of money in that era. But the end of his playing days found him in poor financial shape, his reduced compensation in his final Chicago years took a toll. Spalding, perhaps in an effort to assuage a guilty conscience, offered to organize a subscription testimonial, then a popular method of raising cash for individuals and groups, worth $50,000. Anson, feeling betrayed and insulted, refused. "The public owes me nothing, and I am neither old nor a pauper. I can earn my own living as hitherto, and, moreover, I am by no means out of baseball." He still retained his stake in the Chicago club, but this did not translate into income.
Anson's numbers, 19th century ball or not, are extraordinary, especially considering the much shorter schedules of his time. Exactly what his career totals are depend on your source, and how that source handles the NA (major league or not?), and the 1887 season. Most references use NL totals only, and recalculate 1887 to modern standards. The totals used here are from the SABR Book of Lists (a work-in-progress), and represent the "latest and greatest" research. It also follows the conventions just mentioned. Following the total is Anson's all-time Cubs rank, followed by his all-time major league rank, in parentheses, if significant:
.300 seasons: 19, first; (NL record).
Games: 2253, second.
At-bats: 9084, second.
Average: .331, fourth; (24th).
Runs: 1722, first; (21st).
Hits: 3012, first (23rd).
Total bases: 4145, third.
Doubles: 529, first (27th).
Triples: 129, second.
Extra base hits: 751, fifth.
RBI: 1880, first; (10th).
Walks: 952, third.
Stolen bases: 247, tenth.
Anson, indeed, was not finished with baseball, and he would remain a public figure the rest of his life. Cap had always admired Spalding's rise as a business tycoon, and strove to match it. He had no business acumen, however, and his attempts to prosper after his playing days were sad and comic, by turns.
He made attempts to return to Organized Baseball. Anson, in 1900, had an opportunity to purchase a Western League franchise, and move it to Chicago's south side, but this was vetoed by Spalding, whose permission was required by the rules of the National Agreement. This act sundered the relationship between the two men. Had it gone through, the history of Chicago baseball would have been changed significantly, as the Western League would become the American League later that year, and its Chicago franchise, established in defiance of the National Agreement, would be Charles Comiskey's White Stockings, moved from St.Paul MN. Also in 1900, Anson was recruited to serve as president of a renewed American Association, but the league was stillborn, unable to secure sufficient financing. Later that year, Anson would publish his autiobiography, A Ball Player's Career. It includes this passage, which could have been written for today's blog:
Anson would never again attempt to find employment or ownership in Organized Baseball. He invested in a billiards parlor and a bowling alley, both were sports at which he excelled. He won an American Bowling Congress national championship in 1904, as captain of a five-man team. Both the parlor and the alley failed, or were sold, by 1909.
And, there was "Capt. A.C. Anson's Ginger Beer", (a soft drink). It proved a dramatic brew, but let's allow Cap to tell the story in his inimitable fin de siecle style:
Complaints began to pour in to the factory from all kinds and classes of customers, and I began to be afraid to walk the streets for fear that some one would accuse me of having bottled dynamite instead of ginger-beer."
Some of the original porcelain bottles survive, treasured and expensive collectibles.
Anson also tried politics. In 1905, he was approached to run for Chicago City Clerk on the Democratic ticket, a relatively harmless office. He was elected, but proved to be as inept an officeholder as a businessman. Despite his personal popularity, he was not renominated by his party for a second term, and failed to win nomination for county sheriff in a 1906 Democratic primary.
In 1905, Anson cashed his major league shares, in order to settle debts and try one last fling in business. In 1907, his term as clerk completed, he purchased a semipro team, renamed it "Anson's Colts", and built a small ballpark on the south side. The Colts played in a organization called the City League, and also took on independent teams, providing the backdrop for a final enigma.
One of the Colts' frequent opponents was their south-side neighbor, the Chicago Leland Giants, an all-black team, and one of the finest teams, of any kind, in the nation. There were never any incidents, even when Anson himself took the field, as he did from 1908, in a last-ditch effort to boost the box office. At 56, he could still hit (hand-eye is the last thing to go), but was a statue in the field.
On these occasions, he would meet, and converse cordially, with Andrew "Rube" Foster, manager and part owner of the Giants. Foster, a seminal figure in baseball history, would found the Negro National League in 1920. There is at least one posed photo of the two, neither seems uncomfortable in the other's presence. Whether, as in Toledo, Anson modified his behavior for the sake of much-needed cash; or had undergone a genuine change of attitude, cannot be known. Cap left no definitive late-life testimony. Anson sold the Colts in 1909, he had now nearly become the pauper he denied being in 1898.
The National League offered a pension to Anson, but he refused it. In 1910 he declared bankruptcy, and in 1913 he lost his home and remaining property. Adrian and Virginia lived with a daughter until Virginia's death in 1915.
Anson had tried the stage, briefly, in the `90s, and had some success. His friend Ring Lardner wrote a short skit, "First Aid For Father", and with this, and other scenarios, Cap now toured vaudeville circuits, sometimes accompanied by his daughters. It was small-time, but it paid enough to stave off charity. Anson retired from the stage in 1921.
In January, 1918, the Sporting News asked Anson to name his all-time team. Though Ty Cobb was in his prime, and Honus Wagner had just finished a career in which he had broken many of Cap's NL records, Anson named no one from the new century. He submitted: catchers, Buck Ewing and Mike Kelly; pitchers, Amos Rusie, John Clarkson, and Jim McCormick; first base, himself; second base, Fred Pfeffer; third base, Ned Williamson; shortstop, Ross Barnes; outfielders, Bill Lange, George Gore, Jimmy Ryan, and Hugh Duffy.
Early in 1922, Anson, well-known as an amateur golfer, was elected president of the new Dixmoor Golf Club on Chicago's south side, his last employment. He had remained an avid sportsman throughout the years. Approaching seventy, Cap was still active and energetic.
He was suddenly stricken that April, collapsing on the street during his daily constitutional, and died of heart failure following surgery, April 14, 1922, three days short of his 70th birthday. Finally beyond pride, Anson was buried, at National League expense, in Oak Woods Cemetery on the south side. Virginia, buried with her family in Philadelphia, was moved to lie beside him. The funeral was lavish, attended by politicians, ballplayers, league officials, and the new Commisioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Landis, an old friend of Anson's. A long procession allowed the public to pay respects. A few years later, a small city street was renamed Anson Place, still the only Chicago thoroughfare formally named for an athlete.
The National League paid for Anson's monument, dedicated at Oak Woods in 1923. Elegant and understated, adorned by carved wreaths and crossed bats, it is one of the finest baseball-themed memorials. Anson had once suggested that his epitaph read: "Here Lies a Man Who Hit .300". The League had more dignified ideas. Beneath the formalities of name and dates, the inscription reads:
HE PLAYED THE GAME
In 1939, the Committee on Old-Timers voted Anson into the new Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Spalding and four others. Anson's plaque was among those enshrined in Cooperstown at the Hall's dedication, June 12, 1939.