Profile by BCB reader gentbaseball12
Quick, can you name Major League Baseball's single-season home run champion prior to Babe Ruth in 1919? The answer, of course, is former Cubs/White Stockings infielder Ned Williamson.
While the name Ned Williamson isn't often mentioned in the same breath as Ruth and Maris, the 210-pound righthander is one of only five men since 1900 to hold baseball's single-season home run record, albeit with a catch. Williamson played his home games at Lake Front Park, which had the shortest outfield fence in the majors (the field dimensions: LF 186", CF 300" and RF 196").
Prior to 1884, any ball hit over the leftfield fence was scored as a ground-rule double. The rule was changed for the 1884 season to count any ball hit over the fence a home run, and Williamson took advantage, leading the majors with 27 round trippers. He was one of four White Stockings to hit more than 20 home runs that year, and after the season, the National League mandated that the minimum distance for outfield fences be set at 210 feet. It also was the White Stockings final season at Lake Front Park, and Williamson's record stood for 35 years until Ruth hit 29 home runs in 1919.
A solid player even without the single-season home run record, Williamson ranks in the top 20 in Cubs history in five categories: runs (19th - 744), runs batted in (19th - 622), slugging percentage (17th - .397), on-base percentage (17th - .338) and OPS (17th - .735). Teammate Cap Anson also called Williamson "the greatest all-around baseball player the country ever saw," and Williamson became the first player in franchise history to hit three home runs in a single game, achieving the feat against Detroit on May 30, 1884.
Born Edward Nagle Williamson on Oct. 24, 1857 in Philadelphia, Williamson made his major-league debut May 1, 1878 at the age of 20 with the Indianapolis Blues. In 63 games with the Blues, Williamson batted .232 with a home run and 19 RBIs before moving on to Chicago where he spent 11 seasons with the White Stockings and one year with the Chicago Pirates in the Player's League. As a member of the White Stockings, Williamson drove in 65 or more runs four times, batted .275 or better four times and also logged 35 innings on the mound. He finished with a career pitching record of 1-1 with three saves and a 3.34 ERA in 12 games.
Williamson passed away only four years after his final season in professional baseball, falling victim to a fairly common 19th Century disease, dropsy (swelling of an organ or tissue) complicated by tuberculosis, in 1894 at the age of 35. Curiously, Williamson was one of five players from the 1885 pennant-winning White Stockings to lose their life at an early age, joining teammates Larry Corcoran (died 1891; Brights Disease), Frank "Silver" Flint (died 1892; consumption/tuberculosis), Mike Kelly (died 1894; pneumonia), and John Clarkson (died in 1909; complications from pneumonia).
Williamson also appeared in two World Series (the early incarnation of that event, played between the NL champions and the champion of the then-major league American Association) in 1885 and 1886 and in 1936 received two Hall of Fame votes from the Veterans Committee.